Bluejays overcome Bethel and weather delay

Tabor running back Ontre’Von Cooper (32) skirts the Bethel College defense for a 9-yard gain early in game on Saturday. The junior ran for 66 yards on 14 carries in the Bluejays’ 53-0 win over the Threshers. The game was suspended with 4:04 left in the first quarter because of lightning in the vicinity. The game resumed Sunday afternoon.
Tabor running back Ontre’Von Cooper (32) skirts the Bethel College defense for a 9-yard gain early in game on Saturday. The junior ran for 66 yards on 14 carries in the Bluejays’ 53-0 win over the Threshers. The game was suspended with 4:04 left in the first quarter because of lightning in the vicinity. The game resumed Sunday afternoon.
It took more than 21 hours to complete the task, but the 18th-ranked Tabor Bluejays dominated Bethel College 53-0 in the KCAC opener for both teams at Joel Wiens Stadium.

It was the first game for the Bluejays since their lopsided loss two weeks earlier against nationally ranked Morningside College.

With a week off to regroup and retool, Tabor was primed for a victory against its historic rival from North Newton.

After the Bluejays forced a three-and-out on Bethel’s opening possession, Tabor took over at its 38-yard line and drove 62 yards in nine plays with quarterback Curry Parham scoring from 1 yard out. Austin Smith’s extra point made it 7-0.

Tabor pushed the lead to 15-0 soon after when Parham connected with receiver Zach Johnson on a deep pass down the Bethel sideline for a 60-yard score. Johnson then passed to Wyatt Bell for the 2-point conversion.

After another three-and-out for Bethel, the Parham-Johnson express struck again, this time for a 23-yard touchdown and a 22-0 lead with 4:04 left in the quarter.

At that point, play was suspended because of lightning in the vicinity, which requires a 30-minute pause following the final flash.

But Mother Nature had other plans. Lightning continued for well over an hour, prompting the postponement.

Rusty Allen, the school’s vice president for athletics, said it was the first time in his 17 years at Tabor that a football game was halted because of lightning.

When play resumed at 2 p.m. Sunday, either the Threshers had strengthened their resolve or the Bluejays had softened theirs. The two teams went back and forth with no scoring until late in the second quarter, when Tabor’s Trayvon Hicks recovered a fumbled punt at the 50-yard at the 3:02 mark.

The momentum boost led to a Tabor touchdown in six plays with Zach Johnson sweeping the left side for a 12-yard score and a ultimately 29-0 lead with 1:04 left.

“We didn’t start out as quickly (Sunday) offensively as I would have liked, but that’s OK,” coach Mike Gardner said. “I kind of anticipated it was going to be a little sluggish.

When Tabor recovered the ensuing squib kickoff, the Bluejays drove from the Bethel 37 to the 4-yard line. But with only four seconds left in the half, Tabor opted to kick a field goal on fourth down; Smith made it count for 32-0 lead at intermission.

Tabor added three more scores in the second half to complete the rout. In the third quarter, Parham connected with Johnson again, this time for a 3-yard score at the 10:31 mark, and Ontre’Von Cooper broke loose along the Bethel sideline for 13-yard touchdown with 20 seconds left in the third quarter for 46-0 advantage.

Tabor’s final touchdown came when Tabor’s Evan Sprayberry caused Bethel quarterback Dominic Webb to fumble in the backfield. Sprayberry then advanced the ball to the 5-yard line. A Bethel personal foul gave Tabor possession at the 2.

Backup quarterback Trey Schmidt took it into the end zone from there, and Smith’s kick made the final 53-0.

“Anytime you’re able to put together a shutout, the credit goes to coach (CJ) Hill, who did a great job of butting together a game plan,” Gardner said.

Tabor rolled 451 yards total offense while the defense limited the Threshers to 61 yards, including a minus-21 yards on the ground.

“Offense is a different deal,” Gardner said. “We’ve got to have rhythm with that, we need to execute the plays we’re supposed to execute. Our pass protection at times was a little suspect, but our pass protection at other times was very, very good.

“The bottom line is, I was really pleased with how our special teams played in particular. I thought that was a huge bright spot for us. We worked really hard on those things.”

Coming—Tabor (1-0, 2-1) travels to Ottawa (1-0, 1-2) on Saturday with a 6 p.m. start.