In a battle of nationally-ranked squads, turnovers and missed opportunities proved costly for the No. 22 Tabor College football team. The Bluejays succumbed to No. 12 Northwestern, 9-7.
The game featured two strong defenses. A year ago, the Red Raiders ranked first in NAIA Division I in scoring defense per game (15.2), while Tabor ranked second (15.3).
That strong defensive tradition continues for both programs this year. The Red Raiders returned eight defensive starters, while Tabor returned seven.
Competing for the first time at home this season, Tabor limited Northwestern to just three first-half field goals, a testament to the Bluejays? strong goal-line defensive front.
The Tabor defense shut down the Red Raiders in the second half, but offensive miscues the duration of the night proved costly.
Tabor lost three fumbles and gave up two interceptions over the course of the game and could not capitalize on three Northwestern fumbles. Tabor?s offense netted just 182 yards, 180 of which came on the ground. Bluejay quarterback Simon McKee completed just one pass in seven attempts and was intercepted twice.
?They?re just good,? coach Mike Gardner said. ?You can?t do what we did. They?re just better than we are. We had our chances, and we didn?t get it done.?
Foreshadowing what was to come, the Bluejays fumbled the ball away on the first play of the game. That set up Northwestern?s first score?a 36-yard field goal?four plays later.
Tabor?s next possession ended in an interception, but the Bluejays escaped further damage when a 25-yard Red Raider field goal attempt missed wide left. The first quarter ended with Northwestern in front, 3-0.
The second quarter began with the Red Raiders on the move, Northwestern settled for Julian Ditt?mann?s 20-yard field goal with 11:04 left in the half.
A fumble ended Tabor?s next drive at the North?western 29. The teams traded punts, and North?western closed the first half with an 11-play, 78-yard scoring drive that ended with a 19-yard field goal as time expired for a 9-0 lead.
Tabor scored after Cody Coleman found running room around the right side for 16 yards, and Jonah McKee ran 14 yards to bring up first-and-goal at the 6-yard line. D?Marco Smith was in the end zone three plays later. Jared Slavens? kick made it 9-7.
Four of the next five possessions ended in lost fumbles?three by Northwes?tern and one by Tabor.
Tabor had a chance to piece together a winning scoring drive. Joseph Donnell carried the ball 25 yards on first down, but McKee?s pass was intercepted with one minute to play.
Coming?Tabor (1-1) will travel to Ottawa (0-1) Sept. 19 for a 6 p.m. game.