Bluejays have field day versus Sterling in home conference opener

The Tabor football team opened conference play at home in fine style tonight, shutting down a disciplined Sterling squad to earn a 12-7 win. The victory gives the Bluejays a 1-1 record heading into Saturday’s home game with non-conference opponent Haskell Indian Nations University, with kick-off scheduled for 7 p.m. 

The Bluejays received the ball and drove down field right away, McKee stringing together yardage to move the ball to the 48-yard line before Tabor fumbled it away to Sterling. But the Tabor defense prevented Sterling from capitalizing on the turnover. Both teams traded scoreless possessions, before Tabor recovered a Warrior fumble on the Bluejay 38-yard line. 

Tabor earned three first downs in quick succession, moving the ball into Sterling territory to the 24-yard line as the clock wound down on the quarter. But as they began the second period, sophomore quarterback Simon McKee threw an interception. Fortunately, once again the Bluejay defense prevented the turnover from turning into Warrior points. 

Despite their first few drives ending in anticlimactic fashion, the Bluejays were the first team to put points on the board. Tabor culminated a drive from their own 46-yard line with a fourth-down field goal from freshman kicker Joe Cannon, who made four of five attempts to score all of the Bluejays’ points. Tabor led, 3-0, with 3:53 left in the half. 

But Sterling would sneak in a touchdown just 24 seconds before the end of the half, as sophomore quarterback John Cardona scored on the keeper to give the Warriors a 7-3 lead going into the locker room. 

In the second half, Tabor’s Cannon nailed another field goal with 4:34 remaining in the third quarter, narrowing the margin to 7-6, after Sterling stopped the Bluejays on the one-yard line and prevented the touchdown. 

The Tabor defense gave their offense a boost moments later, recovering a fumble at 4:22 on Sterling’s 11-yard line. Sophomore running back Brandon Johnson rushed to the seven-yard line for Tabor, but when two passes fell through receivers’ hands, the Bluejays contented themselves with another field goal to take a 9-7 lead with 3:15 remaining in the third period. 

The defense did the Bluejay offense another favor when junior defensive back JP DeJesus intercepted Sterling’s Cardona near the Tabor 43-yard marker and ran it back to the Sterling 24-yard line with two minutes remaining. In a fourth and two situation, Tabor opted for the safe option and relied once more on Cannon’s leg, taking a 12-7 lead at the beginning of the final period. 

However, the game was far from in the bag, with Sterling still threatening and the margin within a single score. But the Warriors fumbled on a punt return as the clock wound down, ending their comeback hopes and giving Tabor the ball on Sterling’s 31-yard line with just 36 seconds left to clinch the Bluejay victory. 

Cannon proved to be the hero of the day, coming out as Tabor’s top scorer with all 12 points and a combined 132 yards. Others contributing to Tabor’s 319 yards total offense included James Monroe, Jr., who led the Bluejays in rushing with 87 net yards; McKee, who was 15 of 20 through the air for 118 yards and just one interception; and senior wide receiver Tanner Giffin, who had five receptions for 36 yards. 

Leading the defensive effort were junior defensive end Terach Antoine and junior defensive back Cody Godshall, who each had four solo tackles and an assist. DeJesus also had 40 yards on an interception, as well as a forced fumble, two solo tackles and two assists. 

Cardona led Sterling in rushing with 49 net yards and a touchdown, and completed 11 of 19 attempts through the air for 133 yards and one interception. Topping the receiving list was junior wide receiver Jordan Coleman with 69 yards on five catches. 

Junior defensive back Aric Hook recorded eight solo tackles and an assist to set the bar for the Sterling defense, aided by junior defensive back Jeremy Garcia who had 30 yards on an interception, as well as three solo tackles and two assists. 

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