Jays win 2nd-straight KCAC championship

Zack Johnson catches a 56-yard flea-flicker from quarterback Curry Parham late in the first quarter at Bethel Saturday. The drive culminated in a touchdown that extended Tabor’s lead to 16-7. Johnson caught five passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns in Tabor’s 40-10 win. Tabor will face Morningside in the NAIA Opening Round Saturday. Phyllis Richert Photo

The 13th-ranked Tabor College football team did its part in a quest for a second-consecutive conference championship Saturday by defeating Bethel, 40-10.

The Bluejays also got some help from the University of Saint Mary, who defeated 10th-ranked Kansas Wesleyan, 38-24, to propel Tabor to the top of the standings and give the Bluejays the title outright.

Tabor scored 30 of its points in the first half. The Bluejays got an early gift when the Threshers threw an interception on the game’s opening play. Kevin Golden was credited with the pick, and Tabor scored in eight plays when Jared Slavens sent a 32-yard field goal through the uprights.

After a Bethel three and out, Tabor needed six plays to cover 48 yards. Zack Johnson hauled in an 11-yard touchdown pass from Curry Parham, giving Tabor a 10-0 lead.

Bethel’s defense scored the Threshers’ only touchdown, when, two plays into Tabor’s next drive, Parham completed a pass to Johnson, only to have the Bethel defender strip the ball from him and take it for a 20-yard touchdown. That made it 10-7 with 4:07 left in the opening period, a margin that held through the end of the quarter.

Tabor’s next drive was aided by three Thresher penalties, as well as a 56-yard flea-flicker from Parham to Johnson. Two plays into the second quarter, on first and goal from the Bethel 2-yard line, Keith Thomas completed a touchdown pass to defensive lineman Dimitri Bowie, who played a handful of snaps on offense during the game. The extra-point kick missed its mark, giving Tabor a 16-7 advantage.

Bethel then fumbled the ball away on first down and Maurice Payne recovered it at the Thresher 33-yard line. On the fourth play of the drive, Charles Beale made a diving touchdown catch on an 18-yard pass from Parham. That made it 23-7.

Tabor struck again at the 6:05 mark when Parham completed a 9-yard touchdown pass to Johnson on the ninth play of the drive, extending Tabor’s lead to 30-7.

Tabor’s Charles Beale makes a diving reception for a touchdown in the second quarter for a 23-7 lead over Bethel Saturday in North Newton. Phyllis Richert PhotoBethel made a 48-yard field goal right before halftime, making it 30-10 at intermission.

Tabor scored on the second half’s opening possession. The drive was highlighted by a 27-yard pass from Parham to Jonah McKee, and later, an 18-yard run by Ontre’Von Cooper. Cooper crossed the goal line from 3 yards out to cap the five-play, 60-yard drive. With 12:47 left in the period, Tabor led, 37-10.

Evan Sprayberry forced a fumble on Bethel’s next possession, and Matthew Chilo recovered it. But Tabor fumbled the ball back to Bethel on the next play. Neither team scored the duration of the quarter.

Two plays into the fourth quarter, however, Slavens drilled an 18-yard field goal, extending Tabor’s lead to the final, 30-point spread.

Tabor rolled up 403 yards of offense while limiting Bethel to 133. The Bluejays rushed for 233 yards, led by Cooper with 16 carries for 152 yards and a touchdown.

Through the air, Parham was 13-for-18 for 169 yards and three touchdowns.

“I think we left at least 14 points on the board, but when you score 40, that should be enough points to win a football game,” coach Mike Gardner said. “It just would’ve been nice to see us have a little bit more production when we got in the red zone.

“But other than that, I was really pleased with how we were able to move the football against a defense that had statistically, at least, put up some really good numbers.”

Defensively, Sprayberry and Alex Neuschafer each had eight tackles. Sprayberry had three sacks. Tabor recorded 101⁄2 tackles for a loss, and Gardner praised his defense in a game in which they gave up only a field goal.

“We were able to take advantage of their passing game by bringing pressure,” he said. “We blitzed, and by doing that, it put us in man coverage, and I felt like we were good enough in our secondary to match them. Our kids just played well and they played motivated, and it all worked out.”

Coming—As the KCAC regular-season champion, Tabor (8-2) will travel to Morningside (Iowa) (9-1) for a noon kickoff Saturday. Tabor ranks 12th in the final Top 25 poll. The Mustangs rank fifth. The two teams met a year ago in the NAIA quarterfinals, with Morningside earning a 51-6 victory.

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