The Tabor College football team did everything it could possibly do on the field to extend its season with a resounding 65-21 thumping of fifth-place Bethany College to complete the regular season Saturday at Joel H. Wiens Stadium.
Tabor started well, methodically moving the football on the opening possession from its 25-yard line to the Bethany 7 in 18 plays. But the Swedes blocked Austin Smith’s 24-yard field-goal attempt at the 7:59 mark.
The Bluejays’ second possession ended on an interception of a Curry Parham pass at the Swede 19-yard line.
But after Tabor’s defense forced a Bethany three-and-out, the Bluejays took possession at the Bethany 43. Tabor scored three play later on a 39-yard pass from Parham to Zach Johnson with 24 seconds left in the first quarter. Smith’s extra-point kick missed to the right for a 6-0 lead.
After Tabor forced another Bethany punt, the offense scored in two plays: a 38-yard run by Drevion Cooper to the Bethany 22-yard line, then a touchdown pass from Parham to Skylar Valencia with 12:28 left in the first half. Smith’s PAT made it 13-0.
After the next Bethany three-and-out, Tabor moved from its own 38-yard line to the Bethany 3 in four plays. Parham then rumbled into the end zone through a huge hole off left tackle with 10:06 left. Smith’s kick split the uprights for a 20-0 lead.
The Bluejays pushed the lead to 28-0 when Cooper swept the right side for a 27-yard touchdown on the third play of the possession. Johnson, Smith’s extra-point holder, took the snap and skirted the right side for a 2-point conversion run with 2:44 remaining in the half.
When the Bluejays forced another Bethany turnover on downs, Tabor took possession at its 42-yard line, then drove 34 yards in six plays to set up Smith for a successful 41-yard field goal with 8 seconds left on the clock, giving Tabor a 31-0 bulge at intermission.
The game essentially was all but over at that point. Tabor did surrender three touchdowns in the second half, but the offense made up for it with 34 second-half points to complete the blowout win.
Bethany finally put points on the scoreboard on its first possession of the second half on a 14-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Isaiah Salazarr to Michael Milbourne a mere 1:05 into the third quarter..
Cooper then scored on a 34-yard run at the 9:28 mark for a 38-7 lead after Smith’s PAT kick. Bethany came right back with its second touchdown on a 25-yard pass from Salazarr to Milbourne with 6:38 left in the period.
After Cooper added a 5-yard touchdown run with 3:22 left in the quarter, Sean Kelley scored for the defense when he intercepted a Bethany pass and ran it in from 57 yards out to give Tabor a 51-14 margin as the third quarter ended.
The Bluejays topped off the fourth quarter with a 2-yard rushing touchdown by Valencia with 11:42 to play, and a 9-yard scoring run by Parham at the 8:40 mark for a 65-14 lead.
Bethany managed a meaningless touchdown with nine second left in the game on a 1-yard pass play after blocking a Tabor punt four plays earlier.
The victory gives Tabor an 8-1 KCAC record and an 8-2 mark overall. After Sterling College defeated McPherson College, 50-34, on Saturday, Sterling and Tabor are KCAC co-champions based on their 8-1 records. However, because Tabor’s only KCAC loss came at the hands of Sterling, the Warriors will receive the automatic KCAC bid in the NAIA playoffs.
Tabor coach Mike Gardner said his team can only wait to find out if it will receive an at-large bid from the NAIA selection committee, likely as soon as Sunday.
Regardless, the Bluejays did make history Saturday by winning a third-consecutive KCAC title — the first time a school has three-peated since Bethany College did it on the way to four straight titles from 1993 to 1996.