Early lead bounces away from Bluejays in season opener

For roughly 10 minutes of the first quarter, the Tabor College football team dominated Kansas Wesleyan University Saturday at Salina. But the Bluejays lost a good measure of their momentum when a cold, bitter rain rolled in from the north. By the time the drizzle let up, KWU had scored the first of 21 straight points en route to a 35-19 victory in the season opener.

?I was very disappointed not to have the lead going in at half time and losing the game,? Tabor coach Mike Gottsch said. ?We have a tremendous group of players who are working hard and play hard.?

Derek Washington recorded 70 rushing yards and Tabor?s first touchdown, which came on the heels of a 37-yard completion from Marc Amos to Daniel Jost. The point-after gave the Bluejays a 7-0 lead.

Tabor missed an opportunity to add to the lead when a drive that began at its 23 stalled at the Wesleyan 25 and devolved into a field-goal attempt that sailed wide left. But the missed field goal was the least of Gottsch?s concerns about his team?s offensive execution.

?Our third-down conversion percentage was very poor,? he said. ?This was due to not being very disciplined on offense?10 penalties for 100 yards is inexcusable.

?Some of this can be attributed to platooning QBs; most of it is just not being disciplined.?

Gottsch hopes much of the sloppiness can be cleaned up by declaring that Amos has secured the starting job, at least for the coming week.

?We have two quality quarterbacks,? he said. ?(But) a disciplined team will have fewer than 40 yards of total penalties in a game.?

The 7-0 score stood until Wesleyan punched in a one-yard touchdown with 2:02 left in the first quarter. The tying touchdown followed a Tabor fumble at its 8-yard line.

?Our defense put us in very good situations, especially early,? Gottsch said. ?Great offenses capitalize on those opportunities.?

Instead, Gottsch said the other units put the defense ?in unnecessary situations, primarily because of penalties on offense and poor kickoff and punt coverage.?

The score remained tied at 7-7 until Coyote quarterback Doug Webster connected with Corey Ham for a 14-yard touchdown with 29 seconds left in the first half. The Bluejays had the Coyotes dead to rights on fourth-and-four earlier in the drive, but jumped offside to allow the series to continue.

Tabor missed a 51-yard field goal attempt with seven seconds left in the half.

?We have a solid kicker in (Stephen) Gulledge,? Gottsch said. ?He will hit some big field goals for us this season and is one of the leading punters in the conference as well.?

Wesleyan scored again for a 21-7 lead just 2:49 into the third quarter, but Tabor answered quickly. Washington caught a short pass in stride on third-and-nine, and weaved toward the left sideline. He cut back to midfield and turned upfield at the right sideline, where he picked up additional blocking and ran with a convoy to the end zone for a 69-yard score.

Unfortunately for Tabor, the extra point clanked off the upright, making the score 21-13.

The Bluejay defense then forced a three-and-out, but the offense malfunctioned. With 25 yards in penalties, followed by a 12-yard sack, the Bluejays retreated from the KWU 30 to their own 33.

The ensuing punt went 36 yards, but did not reach the first down marker?and Troy Alsobrook returned it 40 yards to start the Coyotes? possession in Tabor territory.

Jake Winship capped the series that followed with a one-yard plunge and Webster tacked on another score for a 35-13 Coyote lead with 5:46 left in the contest.

With the game out of reach, Marquis Lawrence scored on a 33-yard run for Tabor. A 2-point conversion try failed, making the final score 35-19 with 4:14 remaining. Lawrence finished with 41 yards on four carries. Jost finished with five catches for 121 yards, the longest of which went for 43 yards.

But while the Bluejays? feast-or-famine offense averaged 5.1 yards per snap, it rarely gave the defense an extended rest. Amos and Joey Erickson split the snaps at quarterback and combined for 223 passing yards.

The Bluejays totaled 107 rushing yards and likely lost fullback Seth Ramsey for the season with a knee injury. He finished with one carry for 22 yards.

Tabor generated eight plays for 20-plus yards?six of which went for 30 or more. But Tabor strung together just four series that lasted seven or more plays.

Big plays produced all of the Bluejays? scores and the outcomes of their longest drives were a missed field goal, an interception and two punts.

?I believe our offense will get on track this week and defense will continue their aggressive style of play,? Gottsch said. ?They are very opportunistic and work hard at three-and-outs and takeaways. Special teams will progress, too.?

The Coyotes posted 195 rushing yards?an overwhelming total given that Webster completed just nine of 23 pass attempts for 117 yards. Winship netted 148 of Wesleyan?s rushing yards, along with two touchdowns.

?Our players understand we played a very good team, and had many positives happen,? Gottsch said. ?They will work hard at fixing weak areas and grooming the good.?

Tabor?s defense created two turnovers: a fumble forced by Teal Stutzman and recovered by Chris Sanborn in the fourth quarter, and an interception by Nick Brown on the fifth play of the game. Brown?s pick came with a 20-yard return and set up the opening touchdown by Washington two plays later.

David Quarker led the Bluejays with 11 tackles?nine unassisted?and Stutzman recorded nine total.

Coming?Tabor (0-1) hosts Bethany (1-0) at 7 p.m. Saturday. Largely on the strength of a 96-yard interception return touchdown, the Swedes beat the University of Saint Mary 18-13 in their season opener.

Bethany was picked eighth?one place ahead of the Bluejays?by both the coaches and media who voted in the KCAC preseason polls.

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