The third time wasn’t the charm for the Tabor College football team in its ongoing series with Morningside College of Iowa.
In 2015 and 2016, Morningside ended Tabor’s season in the NAIA playoffs by scores of 51-6 and 65-17, respectively. On Saturday the Mustangs, ranked No. 4 in the NAIA poll, rolled over the 10th-ranked Bluejays, 65-14, at Joel Wiens Stadium in Tabor’s season-opener.
The early matchup was part of the annual KCAC-Great Plains Athletic Conference challenge series.
Coach Mike Gardner said the matchup of schools is usually prorated by the previous season’s standings.
“This was the first year the previous team’s No. 1 played our No. 1 from the previous year,” he said. “That’s one of those calls where you’d rather play them at the end of your season simply because you have more experience.”
The Bluejays had their moments in the first half, both hopeful and heartbreaking.
When Tabor held the Mustangs to a field goal on the visitors’ first possession, the partisan home crowd took heart.
But then Morningside did what it does best: move up and down the field relentlessly.
The Mustangs found the end zone on four consecutive possessions before Tabor broke the shutout on a 61-yard deep-ball pass from quarterback Curry Parham to Zach Johnson with 5:15 left in the first half. Austin Smith’s extra point brought the score to 31-7.
Prior to that score, the Bluejays suffered a couple of momentum turnarounds. The first was set up by a booming punt by Bryson Casmir that Tabor downed on the opponents’ 1-yard line.
On Morningside’s first play from scrimmage, it appeared the Bluejay defense stuffed a running play in the end zone for a safety, but officials ruled the running back had returned to the line of scrimmage.
The second jolt occurred late in the first quarter when Parham fired a strike to his receiver, but a Mustang defender literally snatched the ball from the receiver’s grasp for an interception and first down at the 20-yard line.
Late in the second quarter, with Tabor trailing 38-7, it appeared Tabor’s CJ Tate made a strong catch of another deep pass from Parham. The officials disallowed the catch because Tate did not hold possession long enough. Tabor’s possession ended with another punt.
Morningside took advantage once again and scored its seventh touchdown of the first half for a 44-7 lead at intermission.
The Mustangs slowed their scoring run to three touchdowns in the second half, and led by as much as 65-7. But the Bluejays came back to score for a second time when Drevion Cooper ran in from 11 yards out with 7:20 left. Smith ended the scoring with a successful extra point.
This was the second game of the season for Morningside, while Tabor was making its debut. The Mustangs rolled up 838 yards of total offense while Tabor managed a respectable 356.
“Obviously, I thought our second half was a lot better than our first half,” Gardner said. “I’m not discouraged at all by the outcome of this one. In fact, I’m encouraged about it because I felt (Morningside) took advantage of their conditioning factor. We simply weren’t there yet—we were just coming out of camp and they weren’t.
“All in all I saw a lot of good things,” he added. “I’m anxious to see how this game is going to help us get better down the road and get ready for our conference schedule. If we play like we’re capable of, I think we can still do some really good things.”
Coming—The Bluejays will host Bethel College Sept. 16 in the KCAC opener for both teams. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
“They were in every game they played last year,” Gardner said of the Threshers. “Obviously, it’s going to be a game where they’re going to be excited to come down here and compete. We just want to do the best we can and improve from Week 1.”