Jays victorious in home-opener

Curry Parham prepares to launch a 25-yard touchdown pass to Skylar Valencia during the third quarter of the game with Ottawa Saturday. The score increased Tabor’s lead to 30-19 after Jared Slavens’ extra-point kick. Tabor won the game, 44-25.The 17th-ranked Tabor College football team put its first win of the 2016 season in the books with a 44-25 victory over Ottawa Saturday night.

Tabor never trailed, and the Bluejays gained momentum offensively as the game went on.

“The first half, our defense really played well, and our offense was slow,” coach Mike Gardner said. “The second half, our defense played okay and our offense played very well. It was a good team win.”

The Bluejays again presented a two-quarterback system, alternating snaps between Curry Parham and freshman Keith Thomas.

“We felt like for us to stick with some of our option stuff, (Thomas) was the best candidate to do that, and he was able to throw the football a few times, too,” Gardner said. “He gives us a dynamic that Curry doesn’t, and Curry gives us something that Keith doesn’t, so they complement each other.

“I feel good about both of them, not just because we won but because they both can do things that the other can’t. That forces defenses to prepare during the week for both, and that’s hard because you only have so much time.”

The Bluejays held a 7-0 lead at the first break, thanks to a 15-yard touchdown pass from Parham to Zach Johnson to cap a 14-play, 81-yard drive.

Jared Slavens, the KCAC’s Special Teams Player of the Week, made three field goals in the second quarter, from distances of 25, 32 and 36 yards. Ottawa, meanwhile, got on the board with a 68-yard touchdown pass at the 6:49 mark. The first half ended with Tabor leading, 16-6.

Ottawa snagged an interception on Tabor’s first possession of the second half, which led to a Brave touchdown. The nine-play, 42-yard drive narrowed the gap to 16-12.

Tabor needed just three plays to answer, thanks to a 75-yard touchdown pass from Parham to Johnson that put Tabor in front, 23-12.

The Braves responded with a 4-yard touchdown run on the 15th play of their ensuing drive to draw within 23-19.

Again Tabor had an answer, taking advantage of a short field after a 51-yard kickoff return by Johnson and a personal foul penalty on Ottawa. Taking over at the Brave 28, the Bluejays were in the end zone after three plays. Parham completed a 25-yard touchdown pass to Skylar Valencia for the score, increasing Tabor’s lead to 30-19. That margin held through the end of the third quarter.

Referencing the long touchdown pass to Johnson and the short field position on the next drive, Gardner said:

“Those kinds of things, if they continue to happen this year, that’ll be extremely lucky. Whenever we needed a play, we were able to make a play.”

The teams traded scores early in the fourth quarter. Tabor added a touchdown on a 1-yard run by Jonah McKee. But Ottawa responded with a 20-yard touchdown pass that made it 37-25 with 5:02 to play.

Maurice Payne later intercepted an Ottawa pass and ran it back for a touchdown to increase Tabor’s lead to 44-25 after Slavens’ extra-point kick. Payne, who was named KCAC Defensive Player of the Week, cut Ottawa’s next drive short with a second interception, and Tabor was able to run out the final 1:14.

Tabor rolled up 481 yards of offense, compared with 346 for Ottawa.

Through the air, Parham was 10-for-16 for 214 yards and three touchdowns. Thomas was 2-for-2 for 35 yards. Johnson hauled in four receptions for 109 yards and two touchdowns. Tabor gained 232 yards on the ground, led by McKee with 12 carries for 71 yards and one touchdown.

Alex Neuschafer led the defense with nine tackles, including one tackle for a loss. Evan Sprayberry forced two fumbles.

As the team continues to try to find its identity, Gardner said he was pleased with the Bluejays’ communication on defense, its defensive line play, pass coverage in the secondary and tackling. He said he would like to see improved tackling, more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and the ability to wrap up sacks, improved offensive-line play, and consistency on special teams.

Coming—Tabor (1-0, 1-1) will travel to the University of Saint Mary Saturday for a 1:30 p.m. game. The Spires (1-0, 2-1) come into the game off a bye week, having most recently defeated Friends, 41-28.

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