Swede-ish ‘D’ slows Bluejays, staves off late rally 29-27

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RIGHT: The Bluejay defense swarms around Sean Dahley on Saturday in the middle of Tabor?s bid for a fourth-quarter comeback. ABOVE LEFT: Demetrius Cox runs through a defender?s tackle.? After trailing 19-7 at halftime, Tabor rallied to take a 20-19 lead. But the Swedes refused to go down, bouncing back for a 29-27 win in Hillsboro. Free Press photos by Andrew Ottoson

Football is a game for playmakers, and Tabor came up one play short of securing first conference win under head coach Mike Gottsch this week.

Bethany beat the Bluejays 29-27 Saturday at Reimer Field, but the game came down to the wire.

?It was really a shame to lose the game despite beating them in every statistical category but one,? Gottsch said, referring to the 3-1 turnover differential in Bethany?s favor.

?We played well, and we became a better team this week, despite the loss.?

Caleb Marsh caught three touchdowns, but turnovers and several critical penalties undercut the stellar performance.

Trailing 29-20, but with the ball in Jason Aubrey?s hands, Tabor went to a hurry-up offense with 5:38 left and immediately marched 80 yards in seven plays?and most important, only used 1:40 of clock.

Aubrey completed four straight passes to three different receivers and added an 11-yard keeper run before launching a 30-yard strike to Marsh for the score.

After Martinez posted the point-after, the Bluejays handed the game over to their defense instead of trying an onside kick.

Tabor immediately forced a three-and-out. A blatant case of kick-catch interference by the Swedes denied Marsh a chance to return the punt and sent the standout wideout temporarily to the sideline.

With an irate crowd serenading the officials and the visitors, DeJaun Jones stepped onto the field in Marsh?s stead. The punt went out of bounds, and Tabor took over at its own 26 trailing 29-27 with 2:02 left in the game.

Aubrey completed three more passes, converting first downs with completions to Matt Dean and Marsh to advance the ball to midfield.

But the Bluejays were unable to get close enough to send Martinez out for a game-winning field goal attempt.

After an incomplete pass from Aubrey to Marsh on fourth-and-6 at the 48, Bethany took over on downs with 15 seconds to go.

After Tabor received the opening kickoff, Demetrius Cox had put Tabor up by a touchdown 3:34 into the contest, sprinting 32 yards on the draw play for the score. Derik Martinez nailed the point-after, and Tabor led 7-0.

Bethany bounced back with an 11-play, 70-yard drive capped off by an 18-yard touchdown from Kawika Kalawe to Robert Bieger. The PAT kick clanged off the left upright, leaving the Bluejays with a 7-6 advantage.

But Bethany intercepted Jason Aubrey at the Bluejay 30-yard line, setting up a 35-yard field goal by Johnathan Alvarez.

Trailing 9-7, Tabor then went three-and-out and disorganization on the punt left Martinez scrambling. He gained 2 yards on the run but came up short of the first down, giving the Swedes another short field to work with as the first quarter ended.

The second quarter began with Kalawe narrowly avoiding a sack and scrambling up the sideline 10 yards for a touchdown. The extra point made it 16-7.

Neither offense moved the ball successfully until Bethany wrecking ball Sean Dahley bounced off a tackle and sprinted 37 yards to the Tabor 38. The Swedes moved to the Tabor 22, but Adam Dirks caught Kalawe for an 8-yard loss to effectively end the threat.

Tabor took over on downs at the 15-yard line two plays later and drove 58 yards?25 by way of penalty?before Aubrey was intercepted for a second time.

Bethany moved 59 yards in 15 plays, setting up a 29-yard field goal for Alvarez with one second left in the quarter. Alvarez drilled it, and the score was 19-7.

Bethany received the kickoff starting the third quarter and ran seven plays before punting. The seventh play of the drive began at the Tabor 34 and ended with Joe Wuest and Brad Tyler-Clark running down Kalawe, sacking him near midfield.

The ensuing punt was shanked, and Marsh came up to the Tabor 34, calling for the fair catch.

A Bethany defender was flagged for running into the Tabor return-man, costing the Swedes 15 yards. Tabor took over only 3 yards downfield from where Bethany?s punter let fly.

Six plays later, Aubrey drilled a 31-yard touchdown pass to Marsh. Martinez added the PAT with 7:32 left, and Tabor trailed 19-14.

Bethany?s next drive came to an abrupt halt when Seth Mills hauled in a tipped pass at the 50-yard line. Cox carried three times for 22 yards and two first downs, but a holding penalty on the next play stopped Tabor?s possession in its tracks.

Three straight incomplete passes brought Martinez on to punt, and he lofted a 38-yard kick onto the ground inside the Bethany 5-yard line?but the precision kick took an unlucky bounce into the end zone for a touchback.

Six plays later, Bethany was punting again, this time as a result of Teal Stutzman dropping Dahley in the Swede backfield on third-and-3. Time expired with Alvarez?s kick still in the air, and Tabor took over at its 35 to start the fourth quarter.

Seth Ramsey broke a 20-yard run on a draw play, and Cox had carries of 11, 6 and 13 yards.

The runs set up the second Aubrey-to-Marsh touchdown, a 26-yard toss that Marsh reeled in with his fingernails while diving into the end zone to give Tabor a 20-19 lead.

In a bid to go up by a field goal, Tabor tried for two points, but Aubrey?s pass to Matt Dean fell incomplete with 11:31 left.

?The field goal with one second left, the missed 2-point conversion, the personal fouls that set them up on the next drive?they were all plays that made the difference in the game,? Gottsch said.

The personal fouls Gottsch noted came on Bethany?s next drive, as the Swedes appeared to have been stopped short of a first down when Kalawe was knocked out of bounds just shy of the sticks.

But officials assessed two 15-yard penalties on the play?one for a late hit on the quarterback and one for unsportsmanlike conduct. Marching off 30 yards, officials spotted the ball at the Tabor 9-yard line.

But with help from an increasingly vocal crowd, the Tabor defense kept the Swedes out of the end zone.

The key play of the stop came on second-and-goal from the 8-yard line as Dahley took a handoff and was promptly hammered in the backfield by multiple Bluejays, and fumbling for a 9-yard loss.

But Kalawe was johnny-on-the-spot for Bethany, falling on the loose ball to preserve a 27-yard field goal chance for Alvarez. His successful kick tipped the lead back to Bethany, 22-20, with 6:19 to go.

On the next drive, a pair of penalties?one against the Swedes, one against the Bluejays?made it first-and-16 for Tabor. The ensuing pass-play fell apart, with Aubrey fumbling while scrambling after avoiding a sack.

Bethany recovered and returned the loose ball 22 yards for a clinching touchdown. Alvarez hit the PAT, making it 29-20 with 5:38 left.

Despite the sluggish start, Tabor put up 380 yards of offense, outgaining Bethany by a margin of 258-86 in the second half.

Cox finished with 119 yards on 19 carries and Aubrey put up 207 yards and three touchdowns on 40 pass attempts. Marsh had seven catches for 130 yards to go with the three scores.

?We put up big numbers against a defense that beat the team we lost to by 57 points last week,? Gottsch said. ?To do that and lose, it?s tough.?

Coming?Tabor (1-4) visits Saint Mary (1-3) in Leavenworth on Saturday.

?We want to split the schedule in two and flip the turnover ratio upside down in the second half,? Gottsch said. ?The second half of the season starts against Saint Mary.?

The Spires? only win came against Ottawa, who defeated the Bluejays in Hillsboro in the season opener.

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