Gardner building Bluejays into winners

In the first season of his return as the Tabor College football coach, Mike Gardner did in one season what his predecessor couldn?t do in three: win four games.

Starting with a narrow 23-20 loss to a Kansas Wesleyan team that finshed its season 7-3, Tabor fans noticed the difference in the effort and organization from their team.

It seemed to me that, barring a few mistakes from a team Gardner had together for only a few weeks, Tabor was doing the right things.

In fact, take away a Coyote kickoff return for a touchdown and Tabor easily could have started the season 1-0.

The next week the Bluejays seemed more focused and better prepared as they shut down Bethany, 33-14, to come away with the first victory for Tabor since 2008-09.

Hillsboro safety Spencer Brown played a tremendous game, and both the offense and defense seemed to be on a mission. Perhaps a preview of things to come.

Then Tabor slipped up as they met the meat of its schedule.

Falling to Friends at home, the Bluejay run defense was exposed, but the game was a lot closer than it had been in the past few seasons. An offensive 48-45 shootout at Peru State was a win-able game for Tabor, but as with a team with 70-plus new faces and an entirely new coaching staff, it got away.

Senior Joey Erickson was a highlight, breaking Tabor passing records.

Next came Ottawa. Tabor hung with the Braves in the first part of the game, but it quickly turned ugly, leading to a 55-6 blowout.

That game seemed to be a turning point of the season as Tabor didn?t let anyone embarrass them the rest of the season.

Fighting hard against a physical Sterling team, Tabor never quit?but once again couldn?t stop the run and a 10-minute second half Sterling offensive possession and lack of production in the red zone led to the 33-14 Warrior victory.

The Bluejays bounced back with 55-7 pasting of rival Bethel in North Newton in a game in which they couldn?t do anything wrong. But Tabor was quickly brought back to earth with a 40-14 loss at McPherson.

Tabor faired better against the Bulldogs than all but two of its opponents.

Focused and much improved in its last two games of the season, the Gardner-led Bluejays did two other things that eluded Gottsch in three seasons: establish a winning streak and win at home.

Southwestern came to town and became Tabor?s first Joel H. Wiens victim. The Mound?builders were dominated by Tabor from the opening kickoff, falling 55-28.

Tabor made it two in a row Saturday with a 27-7 win over Saint Mary on Saturday.

Having watched Tabor the entire season, except for the Peru game, I have to say Gardner is moving this program in the right direction.

Tabor did exactly what it should of this season: improve game to game.

Young players came along and seniors played with heart.

As for my experiences with Coach Gardner, I?am impressed with the level of respect he treated me and the way he never let the outcome of the game determine his attitude in post-game interviews.

I?think Gardner is a great coach and a true professional.

It?s been a pleasure.

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