ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ANDREW OTTOSON
The Tabor College Bluejays continued their season-long pattern of alternating wins and losses by bouncing back from last week’s home loss with a 23-7 road win at McPherson.
The Bulldogs, playing in front of a homecoming crowd, opened the scoring with a 33-yard Brison Gray field goal with 6:46 left in the first quarter.
Shut out in the opening period, the Bluejay offense came to life on its first possession of the second quarter.
Tabor picked up a head of steam behind 14 yards from Julius Williams. Hector LaBoy added 11 more on the ground before a 36-yard connection from DeJaun Jones to Caleb Marsh set up a one-yard touchdown run by Mario Nava with 9:22 to play in the half.
The extra-point kick fell short when McPherson freshman John Brown slipped by his blocker and got a hand on Marcus Manny’s kick.
Three plays later, Tabor freshman Terry Bates picked off a Patrick Luz pass and returned the ball to the Bulldog 27-yard line. The takeaway set up a four-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Nate Owens.
Manny’s second extra-point try put his team up by 10.
After Tabor’s defense forced a three-and-out, an illegal block penalty during the punt return moved the Bluejays back to their own 16 with 3:22 left in the half.
A delayed handoff to Nava went for 23 yards, and the visitors used 10 plays to drive to the Bulldog 25.
With 11 seconds on the clock, a trick play put the ball in Marsh’s hands. Taking a pitch from Jones on a fake end-around, Marsh eluded the pass rush and spotted Owens in the McPherson end zone.
But the pass bounced into the hands of defender Ene Akpan, and the half ended Tabor 13, McPherson 3.
The interception was the Bluejays’ only turnover of the day.
“You can never be too good at securing the football,” Rubel said. “We’ve made progress, and we’ll keep working on it every day in practice.”
Tabor’s defense sparked a 10-point third quarter.
On the home team’s first possession of the second half, Shaiphan Lewis read and reacted to a third-and-four pass play to perfection.
In an instant replay of Bates’ pick, Lewis broke in front of the intended receiver, grabbed the ball and sprinted down the Tabor sideline.
With a first-and-10 at the McPherson 14, the offense sputtered and settled for a 27-yard field goal by Derik Martinez.
But before the fourth quarter began, the offense proved its ability to move the ball at will against McPherson.
A defensive stop gave Tabor the ball at its own 13 with 8:17 left in the third. With eight runs and five passes, the Bluejays strung together six first downs, covering 87 yards in 13 plays.
Jones found Aaron Jenkins open in the end zone to cap the drive with a nine-yard score that brought subs onto the field from both sidelines.
Martinez added the point-after and then a 33-yard field goal with 3:31 left in the game.
On fourth-and-nine at the Tabor 23, Sean Retting intercepted Jacob Simon in the end zone to deny McPherson its best scoring opportunity.
The Bluejays “finally played the type of game we wanted to play,” Rubel said.
“Ball control and big time of possession (on offense) kept their offense off the field; getting takeaways (on defense), and the final score ended up the way we wanted it.”
In addition to running the option offense without committing a turnover, Jones completed 14 of 19 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns.
“They were giving us the short passing game, and we took it,” Rubel said.
“We had a 75 percent completion rate, and that also opened up the run game for us-exactly what we were looking for.”
Eight Bluejays combined for 227 rushing yards, led by 65 from Nava, 49 from Williams, 48 from Jones and 30 from LaBoy.
Defensively, the Bluejays broke into the McPherson backfield 12 times, with four quarterback sacks costing the Bulldogs 38 yards and eight tackles for loss pushing the home team back an additional 44 yards.
“We’re better (defensively) than what everybody tends to think we are,” Rubel said. “When the other team’s not out there very much, and all of a sudden we get three takeaways, that’s great for us.”
Tabor held McPherson to 161 yards on the day, the fewest against any opponent this season. The defense allowed only 47 on the ground and grabbed three interceptions.
The loss gave McPherson (1-5) its seventh consecutive loss against Tabor (3-3), and seven games is the longest winning streak against any opponent in Tabor’s football history.
Coming-Tabor returns to Hillsboro Saturday for a 2 p.m. game against the Southwestern Moundbuilders.
The men in blue have won three straight against Southwestern to improve their all-time record against the Moundbuilders to 7-27.
Southwestern went 3-7 last year (2-7 in conference play) and finished eighth in the KCAC. But the Moundbuilders brought back 10 starters from its last season’s offense.
Starting quarterback Braden Smith is back for a third consecutive year.
Smith now holds career passing records and has been joined in the backfield by fourth-year starting running back Andrew Pearson.
Wide receiver Ta’Ron West earned all-conference honors and caught nine touchdown passes last season.
So far in 2006, Southwestern’s defense has improved from last season, cutting a touchdown off of their per-game average from last year.
Southwestern won its first game of the year last week-28-21 against Saint Mary last week.