The Tabor College football team did everything it could possibly do on the field to extend its season with a 65-21 thumping of Bethany College to complete the regular season Saturday at Joel H. Wiens Stadium.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to earn an at-large berth in the NAIA playoffs. But the Bluejays did come away with some history to claim.
“We got our third conference title in a row, which has never been done before at Tabor College,” coach Mike Gardner said.
And they did it with an exclamation point. The Bluejays come out on a wintry-wet day like a team on fire. By the final gun, Tabor had compiled 633 yards of total offense while holding the Swedes to 249—including a paltry 4 net yards rushing.
Tabor started well, methodically moving the football on the opening possession from its 25-yard line to the Bethany 7 in 18 plays. But the Swedes blocked Austin Smith’s 24-yard field-goal attempt at the 7:59 mark.
The Bluejays’ second possession ended on an interception of a Curry Parham pass at the Swede 19-yard line.
But after Tabor’s defense forced another Bethany three-and-out, the Bluejays took possession at the Bethany 43. Tabor scored three play later on a 39-yard pass from Parham to Zach Johnson with 24 seconds left in the first quarter. Bethany blocked Smith’s extra-point kick to keep the lead at 6-0.
After Tabor forced another Bethany punt, the offense scored in two plays: first, a 38-yard run by Drevion Cooper to the Bethany 22-yard line, then a touchdown pass from Parham to Skylar Valencia with 12:28 left in the first half. Smith’s PAT made it 13-0.
After the next Bethany three-and-out, Tabor moved from its own 38-yard line to the Bethany’s 3 in four plays. Parham then rumbled into the end zone through a huge hole off left tackle with 10:06 left. Smith’s kick split the uprights for a 20-0 lead.
The Bluejays pushed the lead to 28-0 when Cooper swept the right side for a 27-yard touchdown on the third play of the possession. Johnson, Smith’s extra-point holder, snatched the snap and skirted the right side for a 2-point conversion run with 2:44 left in the half.
When the Bluejays forced another Bethany turnover on downs, Tabor took possession at its 42, then drove 34 yards in six plays to set up Smith for a successful 41-yard field goal with 8 seconds left on the clock and a 31-0 bulge at intermission.
The game essentially was all but over at that point. While Tabor surrendered three touchdowns in the second half, the offense more than made up for it with 34 second-half points to complete the blowout.
Bethany finally put points on the scoreboard on its first possession of the second half on a 14-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Isaiah Salazar to Michael Milbourne a mere 1:05 into the third quarter.
Cooper then scored on a 34-yard run at the 9:28 mark for a 38-7 lead after Smith’s PAT kick. Bethany came right back with its second touchdown on a 25-yard pass from Salazar to Milbourne with 6:38 left in the period.
After Cooper added a 5-yard touchdown run with 3:22 left in the quarter, Sean Kelley scored for the defense when he intercepted a Bethany pass and ran it back 43 yards to give Tabor a 51-14 margin as the third quarter ended.
The Bluejays topped off the fourth quarter with a 2-yard rushing touchdown by Valencia with 11:42 to play, and a 9-yard scoring run by Parham at the 8:40 mark for a 65-14 lead.
Bethany managed a meaningless touchdown with nine second left in the game on a 1-yard pass play after blocking a Tabor punt four plays earlier.
Almost lost in Tabor’s swarming offense was a school-record performance by Cooper, who compiled a school record 324 yards on 23 carries with three touchdowns.
“I’m very pleased with that,” Gardner said of Cooper’s record. “Curry Parham had a really, really good game himself. I couldn’t be more pleased with our offense.
“Defensively, we had some kids who were a little nicked up, but take away those three (scoring drives) and (Bethany) didn’t do whole lot. We were able to get quite a few kids into the football game and give them an opportunity to play.”
The victory gives Tabor an 8-1 KCAC record for 2017 and an 8-2 mark overall. Sterling and Tabor are regular-season KCAC co-champions based on their 8-1 records.
However, because Tabor’s only KCAC loss came at the hands of Sterling, the Warriors received the automatic—and only—KCAC bid to the NAIA playoffs.
The Bluejays honored 26 seniors on Senior Day, but the shelf is not empty. Gardner said he expects the team will return “at least 21 or 22” seniors next season.
“We’re keeping our numbers up,” he said.