In a battle of nationally-ranked squads, turnovers and missed opportunities proved costly for the No. 22 Tabor College football team. Although an upset was within reach, the Bluejays succumbed to No. 12 Northwestern, 9-7.
The game featured a battle between two strong defenses. A year ago, the Red Raiders ranked first in NAIA Division I in scoring defense per game (15.2), while Tabor ranked second (15.3).
Competing for the first time at home this season, the Bluejays limited Northwestern to just three first-half field goals, a testament to the strength of Tabor?s goal-line defensive front.
Defensively, the Bluejays shut down the Red Raiders in the second half, but offensive miscues proved costly.
Tabor lost three fumbles and gave up two interceptions over the course of the game and could not capitalize on three Northwestern fumbles.
Foreshadowing what was to come, the Bluejays fumbled the ball away on the very first play of the game. That set up Northwestern?s first score?a 36-yard field goal?four plays later.
Tabor?s next possession ended in an interception, but the Bluejays escaped further damage when a 25-yard Red Raider field goal attempt missed wide left.
The first quarter ended with Northwestern in front, 3-0.
The second quarter began with the Red Raiders on the move, but after achieving first-and-goal at the Bluejay 3-yard line, Northwestern?s progress was halted. Three plays later, the Red Raiders faced fourth-and-goal from the 3, and Julian Dittmann?s 20-yard field goal made it 6-0 with 11:04 left in the half.
Just when things seemed to be clicking offensively for Tabor, a fumble ended Tabor?s drive at the Northwestern 29-yard line. The teams traded punts, and Northwestern closed the first half with an 11-play, 78-yard scoring drive. The Red Raiders faced first-and-goal from the 5-yard line, but again Tabor?s defense held. With a 19-yard field goal as time expired, Northwestern extended its lead at halftime to 9-0.
After a Northwestern three-and-out, Tabor?s offense found a spark. Cody Coleman found running room along the right side for a 16-yard gain, and Jonah McKee ran 14 yards to bring up first-and-goal at the 6-yard line. D?Marco Smith was in the end zone three plays later. Jared Slavens? kick closed the gap to what would be the final margin, 9-7.
Things got interesting after that as four of the next five possessions ended in lost fumbles?three by Northwestern and one by Tabor. The Bluejays were dealt a particularly hard blow when, after Dylan Delk recovered a Red Raider fumble at the Northwestern 19-yard line, Tabor advanced to the Red Raider 6, only to fumble the ball away again.
Northwestern attempted a 29-yard field goal with 4:07 to play, but the kick missed its mark.
After that, Tabor?s offense had one final chance to piece together a winning scoring drive. Joseph Donnell carried the ball 25 yards on first down, but Simon McKee?s pass was intercepted with around one minute to play, allowing Northwestern to run out the clock.
Tabor managed just 182 yards of total offense, all but 2 of which were gained on the ground. Donnell was Tabor?s leading rusher with 14 carries for 76 yards. McKee was 1-for-7 for 2 yards with two interceptions.
Northwestern, meanwhile, tallied 298 yards of total offense, including 174 passing and 124 rushing.
Coming?Tabor will travel to Ottawa Sept. 19 for a 6 p.m. game.
For scores and updates during games, follow Janae on Twitter @janaerem13