ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
History was made Saturday afternoon at Wichita’s Cessna Stadium when the 6th ranked Tabor College Bluejays defeated the 12th ranked Graceland University Yellowjackets 17-14 for the first ever post-season win in Tabor College history.
The Bluejays opted to take the wind on the opening kickoff and it couldn’t have worked out better as Graceland fumbled the return and Tabor’s Tim Stevens was there to recover.
Five plays later, Ricky Ishida hooked up with Jeff MacKinnon across the middle for a 20 yard touchdown putting Tabor on top 7-0 just two minutes into the game.
Tabor’s defense was charged up and forced two consecutive punts by Graceland, handing the Bluejays the football on its own 49 yard line.
From there it took the high powered offense just three plays as Roger Butler rushed the final 18 yards for a touchdown as the Bluejays vaulted out to a quick 14-0 lead with 6:57 to play in the first quarter.
But Tabor wasn’t finished as Tim Stevens, who was voted the games defensive MVP, picked off a Clayton Braddock pass and returned it 20 yards to the Yellowjacket 45 yard line.
Although the offense eventually stalled, it did so within the range of field goal kicker Mike Skvor who booted a 45-yard field goal as Tabor bounced into the second quarter leading 17-0.
Both teams struggled offensively in the second quarter but Graceland finally broke the Tabor defense with a 47-yard touchdown strike from Braddock to Adam Perry with just 16 seconds left in the half to cut the Bluejays lead to 17-7 at halftime.
Graceland got back into the end zone in the third quarter as a punt was returned to the Tabor 37 yard line.
The very next play, Braddock found Anthony Ferguson behind the Bluejay defense for a 37-yard touchdown pass, cutting the Tabor lead to a precarious 17-14.
The fourth quarter was a battle of wills before Tabor finally got close enough to attempt a 41-yard field goal, but Skvor’s kick missed to the left with 3:08 remaining.
Beginning at its own 24 yard line, Graceland needed 76 yards against a stiff northerly breeze to continue its season another week.
For awhile, it appeared they just might be successful, but a fourth-and-10 from the Bluejay 30 yard line was snuffed out by Tabor’s all-time leading tackler Jake Schenk three yards short of a first down giving Tabor the football back with 1:26 to play.
A crucial third-and-four conversion by Tabor gave the Bluejays a game-clinching first down as the Tabor sideline erupted with an emotional celebration as the Bluejays ran out the final seconds of the school’s first post-season win in history.
Roger Butler led the offense with 112 yards on 23 carries as the Tabor offense rushed for 144 yards.
Ishida connected on 18-of-27 passes for 160 yards while the Bluejays had 315 yard of total offense.
But it was what the offense didn’t do that proved to be the difference as Tabor didn’t commit a single turnover while Graceland threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles that proved to be the difference.
Tyler McKim has 10 tackles and Jake Schenk had nine to lead the Tabor defense which allowed 365 yards of total offense.
With the win, Tabor moves into the second round of the NAIA Championship Football Series with an 11-0 record while Graceland packs its equipment with a 9-3 overall mark.
Tabor now awaits word on its next opponent and the location of the game which will probably be played next Saturday.
ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL