With a balanced offensive attack and a lockdown effort on defense, the 16th-ranked Tabor College football team defeated Sterling, 31-7, on the road Saturday.
The Bluejays rolled up 465 yards of total offense, including 243 yards on the ground. Joseph Donnell powered the running game with 19 carries for 112 yards and one touchdown. Meanwhile, Simon McKee completed 20 of 25 pass attempts for 199 yards. Torrey Gill was McKee?s top target, hauling in eight receptions for 89 yards.
Tabor?s defense, too, was a commanding presence, limiting Sterling to 192 yards of total offense, including 134 passing and 58 rushing yards. Derrick Lawrence led Tabor?s defense with six solo tackles and one sack. The Warriors escaped a near shutout by scoring with less than two minutes left in the game.
?They had a freshman quarterback, and we threw some wrinkles at him that he wasn?t ready for,? coach Mike Gardner said. ?They are who we thought they were. They?re a scrappy bunch of guys that play hard, and they?re going to be good.?
If there was one area in which Gardner said he would like to see improvement, it would be special teams. Tabor returned four punts for a total of 10 yards. The Bluejays? one kickoff return netted no yards. Sterling, meanwhile, gained 101 yards on six kickoff returns.
?We cannot go into any more games and give up long kickoff returns, not field punts, screw around, get penalties, and stuff like that,? Gardner said. ?I couldn?t be more disappointed in our kicking game. A lot of times I don?t say a whole lot of stuff about that, but that?s just the way it is.?
The Bluejays established themselves early, as McKee fired a 23-yard completion to Gill on the first play of the game. Interspersed with some hard running by D?Marco Smith and Donnell, Gill reeled in two more passes during the eight-play drive, setting up a 3-yard touchdown run by Donnell. Jared Slavens? extra-point kick gave Tabor a 7-0 lead just three minutes into the game.
The teams traded punts, and the first quarter ended with Tabor in possession leading by seven.
The Bluejays were stopped short on third down, but Slavens sent a 42-yard field goal attempt through the uprights to increase Tabor?s lead to 10-0 with 10:28 left in the half.
After a Warrior punt, Tabor covered 84 yards in 15 plays to score on a 2-yard D?Marco Smith touchdown run. The drive was highlighted by a 26-yard carry by Donnell that advanced the ball to the Warrior 6-yard line. Tabor?s 17-0 lead held through halftime when a 48-yard Sterling field goal attempt missed wide right with just seconds left in the half.
The Bluejay defense continued its dominance in the second half, forcing Sterling to punt three times in the third quarter. After a three-and-out by the Warriors deep in their own territory, Tabor capitalized on a short field, covering 42 yards in four plays for another touchdown, this time when Jonah McKee crossed the goal line on an 18-yard run. Tabor took a 24-0 advantage into the final quarter.
The Bluejays put together one final scoring drive, covering 86 yards in 10 plays and scoring on a 21-yard run by Ben Bebermeyer. That increased Tabor?s margin to 31-0 with 8:56 left in the game.
McKee was intercepted late in the game, which set up Sterling?s only scoring drive. The Warriors drove 50 yards in five plays and scored on a 6-yard touchdown pass with just 1:34 left to play.
Coming?With the win, Tabor improved to 3-0 in KCAC play, 4-1 overall. The Bluejays will host Southwestern (1-2, 1-4) Saturday at 7 p.m.