Butler rushes for 255 yards, 5 TDs in Tabor win

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Some days it feels as though the weight of the world is on your shoulders. But for 10th-ranked Tabor College, no weight seems too heavy for its workhorse, Roger Butler.

The senior running back carried the football 40 times for 255 yards on Saturday and caught one pass for 47 yards.

When the final horn sounded, Butler had scored five touchdowns as Tabor, the NAIA’s top-scoring team at 46.5 points per game, defeated Southwestern College, 45-28, in Winfield.

“Roger Butler played great, he really did,” coach Mike Gardner said. “Roger is tireless. He just played a fantastic game and our offensive line really took over when we needed it and gave us a late score.”

After Tabor stopped the Moundbuilders on their first possession, the Bluejays drove to the SC 25-yard line. But Marcus Manny’s 42-yard field-goal attempt fell short.

Back on defense, Tabor stopped SC on fourth-and-three from the Builders’ 32-yard line.

Needing only 28 yards to score, Ricky Ishida, last week’s KCAC player-of-the-week, hooked up with tight end John Garcia for 13 of those yards. Four plays later, Butler crossed the goal line.

Manny kicked the point-after and Tabor led 7-0 at the 7:59 mark of the first quarter.

After an exchange of possessions, SC took over on its 44-yard line. Four plays later, quarterback Braden Smith found Ta’Ron West for a nine-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7 with 4:31 to play in the quarter.

On Tabor’s ensuing possession, three Butler runs sandwiched around a 47-yard pass from Ishida to Butler gave Tabor the ball at the SC 10-yard line.

To no one’s surprise, Butler, who started the contest as the NAIA’s leading scorer at 18.3 points per game, glided into the end zone on the next play to stake Tabor to a 14-7 lead with 2:27 left in the quarter.

Tabor’s next possession ended with an Ishida interception, but the defense stopped the Moundbuilders on four plays.

Aaron Jenkins returned the Builders’ punt 27 yards and Tabor was back in business at the SC 23.

From there it took six plays before Butler rumbled in from one yard out. Although the kick was blocked, Tabor stretched its advantage to 20-7 early in the second quarter.

Brandon Sams returned the kickoff to the 11, but Tabor’s Andy Bartell stripped him of the football and Tim Stevens recovered it at the SC 28-yard line.

But Ishida’s first-down pass ricocheted off the hands of Mike Beach and was intercepted by Ben Tucker, who returned the ball 53 yards to the Bluejay 17.

Three plays later Nick Mondero bulled his way into the end zone and SC was within six at 20-14 with 5:32 to play in the half.

Gardner said overcoming adversity is a sign of a good team.

“We had so many miscues,” he said. “Sometimes you have to overcome those things to put a win together, and our kids hung together very well.”

Tabor answered the Builder touchdown with a 12-play, 61-yard drive fueled by the sticky fingers of Jenkins and the muscular legs of Butler.

Jenkins caught five passes on the drive for 38 yards, including a crucial fourth-and-three reception at the SC 39-yard line.

“Sometimes you have to be a risk-taker,” Gardner said of the fourth down call.

“I told Coach (Dustin) Miller to dial one up. If you show the kids you believe in them and you’re willing to take chances on them, good things will happen.”

Tabor eventually drove to the 4-yard line, where Ishida threw to Brown for a touchdown with just over three minutes left in the half.

Ishida skirted the left end for the 2-point conversion and Tabor carried a 28-14 lead into the locker room at intermission.

After the two teams traded possessions to start the second half, Ishida was again victimized by a tipped ball-this time off the hands of Jenkins and into the waiting arms of Davion Mitchell at the Tabor 38-yard line.

Nine plays later, quarterback Braden Smith scored from a yard out and Tabor’s lead was down to 28-21 at the 3:13 mark.

An unsuccessful onside kick gave Tabor the ball at its own 39-yard line. The Moundbuilders’ defense appeared incapable of stopping the Bluejays as they scored in six plays on Butler’s 20-yard burst into the end zone. Tabor had breathing room at 35-21 with 27 seconds left in the third quarter.

But Southwestern refused to roll over, and pieced together a 10-play, 77-yard drive capped by a 19-yard touchdown run by Andrew Pearson with 12:31 remaining.

“I knew they were going to be tough,” Gardner said. “They had some really good athletes on both sides of the ball, and their coaches did maybe the best job of coaching against us that’s been done all year.”

Needing points, Tabor began its next drive from its own 38-yard line. The Bluejays then converted a critical fourth down when Ishida hit Garcia for a 17-yard gain.

Tabor drove to the SC 21-yard line before the drive stalled. But Manny calmly drilled a 38-yard field goal to stake Tabor to a 38-28 lead at the 6:41 mark.

“Manny came through in the clutch,” Gardner said. “That was a big, big-time play and I’m glad to see it. We just need to develop some consistency.”

After Tabor forced another punt, Butler carried the ball five straight times for 63 yards, and culminated the effort with a three-yard score to give Tabor its 45-28 margin.

Butler’s 255 yards broke Bay Lawrence’s single-game rushing record of 253 yards and his 32 career rushing touchdowns broke Lawrence’s mark of 29.

Butler’s five touchdowns and 30 points in a single game matched a record held by Tyson Ratzlaff.

Butler’s 1,135 rushing yards this season broke the old record held by Mike Sanders (1,093).

Tabor has now scored 46 touchdowns this season, also a new school record.

In all, the Bluejays rolled up 538 total yards, with 327 coming on the ground and 211 through the air.

Ishida connected on 14 of 26 passes for 211 yards while throwing three interceptions.

His favorite target was Jenkins, who had his second straight 100-yard-plus game with seven catches for 103 yards. Jenkins is the fourth receiver in school history to have back-to-back 100-yard games.

Tabor, which also entered the contest as the second-most penalized team in the nation at 118.7 yards per game, had just eight infractions for 66 yards.

The defense allowed 246 total yards but only 66 yards on the ground.

Jake Schenk led Tabor with 11 tackles, giving the Smith Center senior the school record for solo stops in his career with 252. The old record of 250 was set by Lynn Tyler in 1987.

McKim added 10 tackles and an interception.

“This was a really gratifying win for us because we came through when we needed to,” Gardner said. “They all count the same, that’s the bottom line.”

With the victory, Tabor improved to 7-0 while maintaining its lead in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference at 6-0.

Southwestern falls to 2-5 overall and 1-5 in the KCAC.

Coming-Tabor will make its final road trip of the regular season Saturday when it travels to Ottawa to face the Braves with a 1:30 p.m. kickoff.

“Ottawa has been improving,” Gardner said. “We just have to be prepared and give it our all.”

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