ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ANDREW OTTOSON
Tabor College has been historically dominated by Bethany, but Tabor turned in record-tying 41-27 victory in Lindsborg on Saturday.
On the strength of a 21-point outburst in the first quarter, Tabor improved its all-time record against the Swedes to 8-30 and season record to 2-2.
After receiving the opening kickoff, Tabor got things going when Aaron Jenkins made a 31-yard catch at the Bethany 5-yard line. Julius Williams took an option pitch into the end zone for Tabor’s first touchdown 3:38 into the game.
The Bluejays made it 14-0 when DeJaun Jones found Caleb Marsh open for a 6-yard score 41⁄2 minutes later.
Jones started in place of Ricky Ishida, who had played through pain for several weeks after sustaining a lower body injury in the season opener against Kansas-Wesleyan.
After Santee Jones recovered a Swede fumble, Williams ran for a 15-yard gain to set up Tabor’s second score.
The Tabor defense stopped Bethany’s next drive when a fourth-down conversion try came up short.
Then the Bluejays struck for a third touchdown with less than a minute left in the first period.
Jones hit Jenkins for a 40-yard throw-and-catch, Marsh ran for 11 yards on an option pitch, and Jones got loose for 13 yards on an option keeper to finish the drive.
“We’ve got a lot of weapons, and we’ve got to use them all,” Tabor coach Robert Rubel said.
Down 21 points, Bethany bounced back in the second quarter.
The Swedes jumped on a Bluejay fumble at the Tabor 38, and, with 4:35 to play in the half, mounted a four-play scoring drive.
With 22 penalty yards, the Tabor defense backed itself to its own 6, where Bethany quarterback Larry Harris handed the ball to running back Johnny Hunt on consecutive plays.
After Hunt scored, Adam Bearden kicked the point-after with 2:49 left in the half.
Tabor’s next drive abruptly ended with a turnover. Standout defensive back Nate Hite picked off a pass and sprinted 60 yards for a touchdown. The Swedes picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for excessive celebration.
“We made two mistakes offensively in the first half that led to touchdowns,” Rubel said. “But, outside of that, I thought the defense played really well until the fourth quarter.
“We’re going to attack and we might give up a big play every now and then-but the turnovers we’ll force and the sacks that we’ll get. We’ll make big plays too.”
Bethany kicked off from its 20-yard line, trailing by a touchdown.
Tabor, up 21-14 after a superb first quarter and a sub-par second, returned the kick to the 42 yard line with 1:55 to go in the half
With all its timeouts intact, Tabor moved the ball to the Bethany 25 in five plays. But the sixth play lost seven yards and the Bluejays called for a run to set up a half-ending field goal attempt.
Bethany’s Brandon Krinhop blocked kicker Derik Martinez’s 37-yard try as time expired, and it seemed that the only thing working in Tabor’s favor at the end of the half was the score.
Early in the third quarter, the teams combined for seven offensive yards and three consecutive defensive stops.
Just as the game seemed to be grinding to a halt with 6:29 left in the third, Rubel dug into his bag of tricks and called a wide receiver reverse-pass.
Jenkins took a pitch from Jones on the misdirection play and headed for open space near the sideline.
When the Swede secondary stepped up to stop Jenkins short of the first down, Jenkins lobbed the ball 36 yards toward Nate Owens, who patiently waited for the ball while standing in the end zone.
“(The pass) really hung up there for a while,” Rubel said. “I started wondering if it was going to come down, but (the play) worked, fortunately for us.”
Hite got a hand on Martinez’s kick, but the wobbling ball cleared the crossbar with several feet to spare.
On Bethany’s next possession, the Tabor defense pushed the Swedes back to their own 6-yard line. Down 28-14 and punting out of his own end zone, Bearden booted the ball out of bounds at the Swede 28.
After the kick, a five-yard carry by Julius Williams set up 24 yards worth of TJ Jackson runs, and the Bluejays went up 35-14 with 2:13 to play in the quarter.
But that was ample time for the Swedes as Harris connected with Robert Bieger for a 66-yard score that sent a wave of half-full optimism though the home crowd.
A Bearden PAT was the last play of the third quarter and brought the Swedes back within two touchdowns.
When Tabor’s possession stalled to open the fourth quarter, Martinez crushed a punt from the Tabor 12 to the Bethany 26.
Officially, the punt went 48 yards in the air, and a return by Alexander Haynes put Bethany at the 30-yard line with 12:51 to play.
On third-and-long, Harris dropped back to pass, and forced a throw toward Krinhop. But Andy Bartell intercepted the ball and took off down the Bethany sideline. He strode into the end zone 43 yards later with Tabor’s 41st point.
The score tied a school record for most points against Bethany originally set in 2003. The 27 rushing yards were the fewest allowed to any opponent dating back to 2002.
Martinez’s sixth extra-point try of the game sailed wide left, but he sent the ensuing kickoff out of the end zone for a touchback.
The Swedes struck back five plays later. Mixing in three short runs, Harris connected with Bieger for 59 yards and Krinhop for a 25-yard touchdown that made the score 41-27 with 8:53 left as Bethany refused to go quietly into the night.
The next 5:30 minutes ticked away while the Bluejays ran nine plays before their drive stalled.
With time running out, Harris was sacked twice and threw four incompletions as Tabor forced another turnover on downs to preserve the victory.
Saturday marked the second consecutive Tabor victory over Bethany, but the Bluejays have never taken three in a row from the Swedes. Tabor last won consecutive games against Bethany in 1974-75.
Jenkins became the first Tabor player ever to throw touchdown passes on each of his first two attempts, and Bartell became just the third Bluejay with multiple interceptions returned for a touchdown.
Both teams are now 2-2 on the season, but Tabor has played one fewer conference game than the Swedes.