?They had a better week of practice than they?ve had all year, and they played their best game of the year,? he said. ?Coach (Grant) Myers does a tremendous job with those guys, and they responded.
?And Derek had a couple of really great runs,? he added.
Southwestern mounted its most successful offensive possession of the day late in the first quarter, using a pair of long completions by quarterback Jesse Lyons to move the ball to the Tabor 5-yard line to begin the second period.
Led by linebacker Teal Stutz?man, the Bluejays refused to allow a score, and budged only three yards on four plays to take over on downs two yards outside their own end zone.
?Our defensive lineman did a good job keeping their blockers occupied, and that lets our linebackers make plays,? Gottsch said. ?It?s good for us when our linebackers make most of the tackles?much better than when our safeties have to make those plays.?
Ironically, the defensive stand set up Southwestern?s first score. When Tabor quarterback Marc Amos threw incomplete to avoid a sack in his end zone, he was flagged for intentional grounding. By rule, intentional grounding in the end zone is a safety, and the penalty made it 14-2 with 13:19 left in the second quarter.
The unusual score set an unusual tone for Southwestern, as none of the Moundbuilders? touchdowns came against the Bluejays regular defense.
Southwestern?s offense threatened again with a drive from its own 31 to the Tabor 12 late in the second quarter, but Nick Brown intercepted Lyons at the Bluejays 11 to end the threat.
Tabor carried its 14-2 lead into halftime, but Southwestern stole the momentum with three special-teams touchdowns in the second half.
After forcing a three-and-out to start the third quarter, South?w?estern?s Jess Maddox returned a punt 94 yards to pull within 14-9.
Southwestern forced the Bluejays to punt from their own 42 on the next series, and capitalized when Chris Cole returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.
The point-after kick made it 16-14, Southwestern, and a field goal put Tabor in a 19-14 hole with 2:11 left in the third quarter.
But the Bluejays counterpunched their way through the adversity.
?The easiest thing to do when things start going against you is to let that ball keep rolling,? Gottsch said. ?We?ve got a lot of young guys growing up in a hurry, and the experience we?re gaining is making us better?physically and mentally.?
Facing a third-and-13 on the ensuing possession, Amos hit Adrian Clay with a 22-yard completion, and Seth Ramsey followed up two tough runs to close the book on the third.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, the offensive line paved the way for a 21-yard touchdown run by Washington. A 2-point conversion pass from Amos to Ramsey made it 22-19, Tabor.
The Bluejay defense surged, and led by Aaron Munsch, sacked Lyons on third-and-eight to force a punt.
Then, on second-and-two, Amos stiff-armed his way through a tackle to move the ball into Southwestern territory, and drew a personal foul facemask in the process?giving the Bluejays a first-and-10 at the Builder 30.
Washington scored on the next play. After taking a handoff to his right and finding only purple jerseys in front of him, Washington reversed field at the near hashmarks, picked up a handful of blocks, and scampered into the end zone with a score that boosted Tabor?s lead to 29-19 with 10:23 to go in the game.
But Southwestern wasn?t ready to concede, as Maddox returned the ensuing kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown.
The extra point cut Tabor?s lead to 29-26, and the Builders took advantage of a fumble?the Bluejays had three turnovers on the day?to tie it, 29-29, on an Austin Ledy field goal with 4:10 left.
Tabor?s chances appeared to take another hit when Amos? pass was intercepted at midfield, but Bluejay linemen Terence George and Joe Wuest sacked Lyons on the first play of what became a Southwestern three-and-out.
Tabor?s offense retook the field with 1:36 left, and Amos went 5-for-5 passing to lead the team from its own 26 to the Southwestern 11.
On fourth down, after South?western tried to ice him with a timeout, Manny nailed a 28-yard field goal for a 32-29 Tabor lead with seven seconds remaining?an eternity, given the Mound?builders? earlier special teams play.
But instead of aiming away from Maddox, the Bluejays kicked directly at him, and the coverage unit cut him down at the Southwestern 33 to secure the first conference win of Gottsch?s collegiate career.
?The things that really excited me about the game were the way our offense and defense performed,? he said. ?It was by far our most consistent game of the year in both phases of the game.
?Hats off to our players,? he said. ?We worked hard, especially on the mental part, all week.?
That the game was so close on the scoreboard is remarkable considering how completely Tabor pasted Southwestern in both total offense and rushing offense. The Bluejays rolled up 393 yards of total offense (277 rushing) and the Bluejays limited Southwestern to 286 yards (81 rushing).
Washington posted 183 rushing yards on 22 carries, added a 13-yard reception, and split the conference?s ?offensive player of the week? honor with Sterling?s Tyler Degenhardt.
Maddox was ?special teams player of the week.?
Derrick Yeoman was Tabor?s leading receiver, with 55 yards on five catches.
Stutzman set a new career high with 17 tackles, and now leads Tabor with 83 tackles.
?He?s been a very consistent, steady football player, and what?s exciting is to see the other guys on the defense stepping up and becoming more consistent every week,? Gottsch said. ?It?s a huge learning curve.?
Coming?Tabor (1-6 KCAC) has two games left: McPherson (2-5) on Saturday and Kansas Wesleyan (3-4) Nov. 15. A win over McPherson would certainly lift the Bluejays out of ninth place in the conference and could put Tabor in a three-way tie for seventh.