LATE BUT GREAT ESCAPE-Tabor scores twice late in the game to claim its first win of the season

Tabor College rebounded from its loss last week by defeating Southwest Assemblies of God 30-14 at Reimer Field on Saturday.

Ricky Ishida gained 193 yards of total offense and the defense forced four turnovers as Tabor improved its record to 1-1.

Tabor struggled early for the second consecutive week, failing to score and allowing the opposition offense to move the ball the length of the field.

But Bluejay cornerback DeJaun Jones kept the Lions off the scoreboard when he intercepted a pass at the 1-yard line.

“(Jones) has a lot of athletic ability, obviously, and has two interceptions in two games,” Tabor coach Robert Rubel said. “(The coaching staff feels) like if we get our athletes in the right places, they’ll make big plays for us.”

Still scoreless, the second quarter opened with the Lion defense stopping the Bluejays deep in their own territory.

Then, with the wind at his back, kicker Derik Martinez made Tabor’s second big play of the day as he drove his punt high into the air and watched the ball bounce out of the opposite end zone, 80 yards away.

When the Tabor offense next touched the ball, Ishida lined up at midfield, called for the snap, and gunned the ball 32 yards to Caleb Marsh. Ishida found Marsh open again five plays later, connecting for a 25-yard touchdown strike.

“(Marsh) makes some impressive catches,” Rubel said. “We’ve got him on punt return and kick return to try to get him the ball more.”

Marsh finished with four catches for 88 yards. A 17-yard punt return gave him 105 all-purpose yards for the day.

Marsh’s touchdown put the Bluejays up 7-0 with 9:16 left in the first half. A miscue by the visitors on the ensuing kickoff gave Tabor the ball on the Lions 30-yard line.

The defenses traded stops before it was the Lion special teams’ turn to make a big play, downing a punt by Cody Mixon at the Tabor 1-yard line with 5:16 left in the half.

The Bluejays then fumbled the ball at their own 17-yard line, handing Lion runningback Brian Thomas the opportunity to even the score at 7-7.

Tabor’s next drive began with 1:11 on the clock and ended with Julius Williams scampering nine yards into the end zone as time expired in the first half.

The third quarter largely showcased the teams’ toughness and grit, but the second half began with a little flash from the Bluejays; an option run by Ishida went for 23 yards and the Tabor quarterback fired a 16-yard completion to Marsh.

Then SAGU linebacker Daniel Pacheco made his mark on the game: with Tabor leading 14-7 but facing a third-and-six, Pacheco intercepted a ball intended for John Garcia.

Thomas followed with a 27-yard run and Mixon converted a fake punt as the Lions made their strongest bid to seize control.

Perhaps sensing the importance of the moment, Bluejay linebacker Shiaphan Lewis got in on three successive plays as the defense rose to the challenge.

Lewis tackled Garcia behind the line on first down and brought Thomas down to set up a third-and-long. Then, when Garcia’s attempted screen pass was ruled a fumble with 8:38 left in the third, Lewis jumped on the loose ball.

“The defense came up with the stops when we needed them,” Rubel said. “When we had to go out there and stop them, we did it.”

The teams battled to a standstill for the rest of the period, with four consecutive drives ending with either a punt or a turnover.

Late in the quarter, Tabor corner Andy Bartell countered an interception by Lion cornerback Ryan Muhlman with one of his own.

After Bartell’s pick, the Bluejays drove to the SAGU 9-yard line.

On a third-down scramble, Ishida collided heavily with Pacheco just short of the end line.

A field goal by Martinez made the score 17-7 early in a fourth quarter that saw both teams put their explosiveness and speed on display.

The defenses continued to be unrelenting and stingy until a Bluejay special-teams miscue gave SAGU the ball on the Tabor 31 and set up the Lions’ second score of the game.

With eight minutes remaining, Thomas followed a 10-yard sprint with a 21-yard slashing run and narrowed the margin to 17-14 in only two plays.

Thomas finished with 15 carries for 77 yards and two touchdowns.

After Thomas scored, Rubel sent Jones, a transfer with experience running the option, onto the field in place of Ishida.

Jones showed off both his legs and his arm, running the option five times for 19 yards before launching a 51-yard rocket caught by Nate Owens for a touchdown.

The score put Tabor up 24-14 with 5:16 to play.

Then, as time wound down, and with the wind in his face, Lion quarterback Joseph Garcia put up a desperation heave toward the end zone. The ball came down at the Tabor 9-yard line in the hands of Desmond Quinones, who returned it 91 yards to cap the scoring as time expired.

Quinones’ return is the longest since Jason Phelps carried an interception against McPherson 99 yards in 2001.

Jays to hit the road

On Saturday the Tabor College football team will make its first road trip of the season, traveling to North Newton to take on Bethel College.

The Threshers will test the Bluejays mettle in several significant ways. The most important may be the test awaiting quarterback Ricky Ishida.

Against Southwest Assemblies of God, Ishida struggled, throwing one touchdown to go with two interceptions and seven completions in 23 attempts.

Another important test will be for the young team to raise the level of its game in a hostile environment.

Coping with a large graduating class, the Bluejays will have players at key positions playing their first college road game. Three such players will be freshman runningbacks Hector LaBoy, Mario Nava and Julius Williams.

The trio has split time so far, and the Bluejays will probably continue to use all three as they search for consistent production.

Inconsistency made its mark on Tabor’s record against Kansas Wesleyan.

“We have to improve the execution of the offense,” Rubel said after the season-opening 21-17 loss. “When you’re dropping snaps and putting the ball on the ground, those are things that kill you and it came back and bit us.”

The Bluejays faced some of the same problems against SAGU, but-on the strength of a determined and tenacious defensive effort-won the game despite their struggles on offense.

The victory over SAGU gave Tabor its sixth consecutive regular season victory over non-conference opponents and improved its overall record to 1-1.

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