The eighth-ranked Tabor College football team faced an uphill climb at top-ranked Morningside Saturday in the NAIA Football Championship Series quarterfinals.
In the end, the Mustangs showed why they are the No. 1 team in the nation by rolling to a 51-6 victory and handing the Bluejays their first loss since a Sept. 5 defeat to Northwestern.
Tabor simply could not match the explosiveness of the high-powered Morningside offense, which came into the game boasting NAIA-best averages of 62.3 points and 614.2 yards of offense per game.
To Tabor?s credit, the Bluejay defense limited Morningside to 477 yards of offense, the Mustangs? third-lowest total in terms of offensive production this season. The Mustangs have scored fewer than 50 points just four times this year.
Tabor?s defense kept the Bluejays in the game early, limiting Morningside to a pair of field goals, from 29- and 35-yards, respectively, on the Mustangs? first two trips inside the red zone.
On Morningside?s next possession, Dylan Delk forced a goal-line fumble that was recovered by Michael Griffin in the end zone for a touchback. The first quarter ended with Tabor within reach, trailing 6-0.
But with the Tabor offense unable to move the ball consistently, the Mustangs began to gain speed.
Morningside found the end zone on a 46-yard touchdown pass six plays into its first drive of the second quarter. The PAT kick made it 13-0 with 12:15 left in the first half.
The Mustangs capitalized on a Tabor interception, increasing their lead to 20-0 by capping a four-play drive with a 13-yard touchdown run. Morningside added a 28-yard field goal right before halftime to give the Mustangs a 23-0 advantage at intermission.
Any hope of a momentum shift after halftime was lost with a Tabor fumble three plays into the third quarter. After taking over at the Bluejay 21, the Mustangs struck quickly, scoring two plays later on a 14-yard touchdown pass to extend their margin to 30-0.
Things went from bad to worse when Tabor fumbled away the ensuing kickoff. The Bluejay defense forced a three-and-out, thanks to a quarterback sack by Delk for a loss of 10 yards and a delay of game penalty that left the Mustangs facing fourth-and-25 from the Tabor 37.
Tabor?s offense showed signs of life when Rustyn Kerbs rushed for a 23-yard gain on first down, but the Bluejays stalled and were forced to punt four plays later.
In a span of less than two minutes, Morningside sandwiched a Tabor interception with a pair of touchdowns, on runs of 29- and 12-yards, respectively. That made it 44-0, which held through the end of the third quarter.
A botched Tabor punt led to Morningside?s final score. After taking over at the Bluejay 1-yard line, the Mustangs needed one running play to score, making it 51-0 with 10:24 left in the game.
Tabor avoided a shutout by piecing together a scoring drive late in the game. Ontreveon Cooper punched in a 5-yard score on the eighth play of a 54-yard drive. The PAT kick missed its mark, and Morningside was able to run out the last 2:12, to solidify the final, 51-6 margin.
Tabor managed 236 yards of offense, including 198 yards rushing led by Kerbs with 11 carries for 56 yards. Through the air, Simon McKee was 6-for-16 for 38 yards and two interceptions. Derrick Lawrence led Tabor?s defense with 12 tackles.
The game featured the KCAC?s Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year in seniors Simon McKee (quarterback) and Dylan Delk (defensive end), as well as the GPAC?s Offensive and Co-Defensive Player of the Year in seniors Ryan Kasdorf (quarterback) and Zac Schleuger (linebacker).
The Bluejays conclude the season with an overall record of 11-2. Morningside advances to the NAIA FCS semifinals.