In a battle between two stout defensive teams, the 8th-ranked Tabor College Bluejays defeated visiting 9th-ranked Doane College, 16-14, Saturday in the first round of the NAIA Football Championship Series.
Both teams entered the game ranked among the top five in scoring defense per game: Tabor at No. 3 (13.1 points) and Doane at No. 5 (16). Both teams also ranked among the top 10 in rushing defense per game: Doane at No. 3 (92.5) and Tabor at No. 7 (99.9).
?Defensively, Doane?s as good as anybody we?ve played this year,? Tabor coach Mike Gardner said. ?I can?t say enough about our defense though. Those guys came up time and time and time again. We had some great individual efforts from a lot of different people that played into it. I?m happy for our kids.?
Turnovers were plentiful, as the teams combined for eight on the afternoon, including six committed by Doane.
Time of possession was also a factor, as the Bluejays dominated the clock by maintaining possession for more than 40 minutes of action. In the first quarter, the Bluejay defense was on the field for only five snaps.
?Defensively, we couldn?t get off the field in the first half,? Doane coach Matt Franzen said. ?Offensively, we couldn?t get into any rhythm. We just didn?t have a chance to run very many plays.?
After back-to-back punts to start the game, Tabor orchestrated an 18-play, 70-yard drive that took 9:32 off the clock. The Bluejays were aided by a pass interference penalty on fourth down. Four-plays later, Jared Slavens sent a 22-yard field goal through the uprights to give Tabor a 3-0 lead with 1:01 left in the first quarter.
Two plays into Doane?s ensuing drive, Jonah Guary intercepted a Tiger pass, and the first quarter ended with Tabor driving and holding a 3-0 lead.
Highlighting the scoring drive, Tabor quarterback Simon McKee completed a pair of passes to Jonah McKee for 18 and 14 yards, respectively. Simon McKee found the end zone on a 1-yard keeper on the eighth-play of the drive. Colten Mach blocked the extra-point kick, giving Tabor a 9-0 lead with 11:28 left in the half.
Doane responded by scoring in three plays, capped by a 51-yard touchdown strike from Jack Shadley to Mitch Marvin. Jordan Pedersen?s extra-point kick made it 9-7 at the 9:50 mark.
Tabor took 8:08 off the clock on its next possession, which ended when a 30-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Tyler Chapa.
The Bluejays maintained their 9-7 margin through halftime.
Neither team scored the duration of the third quarter. With Doane nearing the red zone at the Tabor 26, Wayde Snell forced a fumble that was recovered by Alex Neuschafer. After a Tabor three-and-out, the Tigers? next possession ended when Darius Stallworth blocked a 42-yard field goal attempt. Dylan Delk recovered a fumble on the first play of Doane?s next drive.
Tabor turned the ball over after that when Alex Thatch snagged an interception, and the turnovers continued in the fourth quarter when Greg Benham recovered a Tiger fumble three plays in.
The turnover led to Tabor?s final scoring drive. The Bluejays covered 70 yards in six plays, fueled by a 42-yard pass from McKee to Stallworth. Facing third-and-20 after a holding penalty, McKee completed a 28-yard strike to Ryan Arballo in the back of the end zone. Slavens? kick extended Tabor?s lead to 16-7 with 10:50 left in the game.
?That was amazing,? Gardner said of Arballo?s touchdown catch. ?We just let it fly and sometimes you get lucky and make a play.?
The next 54 seconds of play saw three consecutive interceptions, recorded by Tabor?s James Foote and Kareem Greene and Doane?s Chapa.
Doane pieced together its final scoring drive with 3:14 left in the game. The Tigers covered 74 yards in seven plays and capped the drive with a 1-yard run by Brandon Stuart. Jordan Pedersen?s kick closed the gap to 16-14 with 1:43 to play.
Tabor narrowly secured the onside kick and was able to run out the clock.
Doane rolled up 303 yards of total offense, including 217 passing yards and 86 rushing yards. Drew Klein was the team?s leading rusher with 15 carries for 87 yards. Through the air, Jack Shadley was 10-for-18 for 161 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Brandon Stuart was 4-for-11 for 56 yards and an interception. Marvin hauled in three receptions for 103 yards and one touchdown.
Meanwhile, Tabor recorded 249 yards of offense, including 160 passing yards and 89 rushing yards. D?Marco Smith led the Bluejays? ground game with 21 carries for 74 yards. Through the air, McKee was 11-for-22 for 160 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. McKee was named Offensive Player of the Game. Stallworth hauled in one catch for 42 yards. Torrey Gill had four receptions for 39 yards.
Defensively, Colten Mach led Doane with 14 tackles and was named Defensive Player of the Game. Neuschafer led Tabor?s effort with eight.
Coming?Tabor (11-1) will advance to the quarterfinal round Saturday, Nov. 28. Doane concludes the season with an overall record of 9-2.