Chilly reception / Tabor football team falls in national playoffs on the road at Morningside for second consecutive year

Zack Johnson hauls in a pass during Tabor’s opening-round game at Morningside Saturday. Johnson caught three passes for 97 yards and a touchdown in Tabor’s 65-17 loss. For the second-consecutive year, the Tabor College football team suffered a season-ending, postseason defeat to Morningside. Having fallen to the Mustangs by a 51-6 margin in the NAIA quarterfinals a year ago, this year Tabor succumbed in the first round by a 65-17 score.

Tabor nearly tripled its offensive point total from a year ago, scoring all 17 points in the first half, thanks to a first-quarter field goal by Jared Slavens and a pair of second-quarter touchdowns.

But Morningside, who enjoyed a 30-point second quarter and held a 37-17 lead at halftime, shut out the Bluejays in the second half while scoring 28 unanswered points.

Tabor covered very minimal positive ground after halftime, pitted against a relentless defense that pressured Tabor’s quarterbacks and recorded four sacks, including three in the third quarter.

In the final period, Tabor maintained possession of the ball for about two minutes and gained just 6 yards.

“In the second half, they started to blitz, and so because they blitzed, they brought more guys than we could protect,” coach Mike Gardner said. “They just started to bring pressure, and our protection didn’t hold up like it had during the season.

“It threw us a curveball that we hadn’t seen for awhile.”

With the No. 1 offense in the country, Morningside established its lead early, covering 75 yards in five plays on the game’s opening drive to score on a 14-yard touchdown run about a minute and a half into the game.

Tabor’s first drive netted negative yardage, but the Bluejay defense forced a punt on Morningside’s next possession.

Tabor’s offense showed signs of life after that, and on the ninth play of the drive, Keith Thomas completed a 27-yard pass to Zack Johnson to put Tabor at the Mustang 4-yard line. But thanks in part to a penalty, Tabor lost 13 yards to bring out the field-goal unit. Jared Slavens sent a 34-yard field goal through the uprights, and Morningside’s 7-3 margin held through the end of the first quarter.

The Mustangs scored on the first play of the second period, then sacked Curry Parham in the end zone for a safety two plays into Tabor’s next drive.

Morningside then covered 68 yards in three plays, thanks to a 44-yard pass completion on first down. A 15-yard touchdown run by the Mustangs’ leading rusher, Tyler Kavan, extended Morningside’s lead to 23-3.

Tabor fired back with a three-play scoring drive of its own. Parham completed a 43-yard pass to Johnson on first down and hit Johnson again two plays later for a 27-yard touchdown pass.

Kavan scored the second of his three rushing touchdowns to cap Morningside’s next drive, making it 30-10.

A 58-yard pass completion from Parham to Charles Beale put Tabor at the Mustang 6-yard line. Thomas scored from there, narrowing the gap to 30-17 with 7:21 left in the half.

A Bluejay fake punt attempt gave Morningside a short field, and the Mustangs scored before intermission. Tabor fumbled the ball away as it neared the red zone, maintaining Morningside’s 37-17 lead at halftime.

Tabor couldn’t get anything going offensively in the second half, netting just 21 yards after covering 232 yards in the first half.

Morningside scored on every possession to take a 58-17 lead into the fourth quarter.

Morningside started its first possession of the fourth quarter in Bluejay territory and covered 44 yards in eight plays to score its final touchdown with 10:16 left in the game. That brought it to the final 48-point spread.

“In the second half, we just weren’t able to sustain drives, and we didn’t get the chance to flip the field, which definitely helped them because they played on a short field,” Gardner said.

“I still think our offense did a good job, and I don’t think our defense played as poorly as the score indicated. ”

Tabor recorded 253 yards of offense, compared with 612 for Morningside.

Tabor’s running game was an uphill battle. The Bluejays netted 54 rushing yards, led by Thomas with eight carries for 40 yards and one touchdown.

Through the air, Parham was 8-for-16 for 149 yards and one touchdown. Thomas was 4-for-5 for 50 yards. Johnson hauled in three receptions for 97 yards and one touchdown.

Tabor, ranked 12th in the final NAIA Top 25 poll, finishes with an 8-3 record. The Bluejays will get another look at Morningside when they host the Mustangs to start the 2017 season.

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