The 8th-ranked Tabor College football team won a big matchup at 7th-ranked Missouri Valley College Saturday night, 27-17.
Powered by a strong rushing attack?Tabor had 353 yards of total offense, 323 yards on the ground?the Bluejays moved the ball with ease, especially in the first half of the contest.
?Our offensive line did a good job of getting after them,? coach Mike Gardner said. ?Simon (McKee) made the right reads, and whenever you have that combination, good things usually happen.
?In terms of playing against a defense that was that good, that was about as good of a half of football as we?ve played in the last three or four years.?
In the second half, Tabor played without starting quarterback Simon McKee, who sustained a shoulder injury late in the second quarter. He did not return, and his status is still to be determined, Gardner said.
Gardner praised his backup quarterback, freshman Jessie Robbins, for being ready to fill in.
?Jessie Robbins did everything we asked him to do,? Gardner said. ?He came in and he managed the game. That?s the first real varsity action he?s had, and I think he did a good job.?
It?s a situation Tabor has faced before, with last season?s loss of McKee to a knee injury four games in.
?That?s kind of the nature of how things go,? Gardner said. ?You can?t cry about it and whine about it. You have to just move on.?
Tabor wasted little time putting points on the board, scoring its first touchdown on the game?s opening drive when Cody Coleman found the end zone for a 4-yard score at the 9:27 mark. Jared Slavens? extra-point kick gave Tabor an early, 7-0 lead.
The Vikings answered by piecing together a scoring drive on their first possession. A 15-yard touchdown pass and ensuing extra-point kick tied the game at 7-7 less than two minutes later. The score held through the end of the first period.
It was a game laden with fumbles?between the two teams, there were eight, including six lost. The first happened when, with Tabor threatening to score, McKee fumbled the ball away in the red zone. The Vikings returned the favor; however, fumbling the ball back to Tabor a few plays later.
That set up a short field for the Bluejays at the Viking 18-yard line. Six plays into the drive, Tabor was in the end zone when Marshall McShan leaped over the pile for a 1-yard score. Slavens? kick made it 14-7 with 8:45 left in the half.
The Bluejays forced a Viking punt, but fumbled on the return. However, Wayde Snell intercepted Viking quarterback Bruce Reyes? second-down pass, setting up another Bluejay scoring drive.
McKee left the game partway through that drive and was replaced by Robbins under center. Owen Cole capped the 11-play drive with a 6-yard touchdown run. After Slavens? kick, Tabor led 21-7 with less than a minute left in the half.
Thanks to a Viking fumble, Tabor was able to squeeze in one final score before the break when Slavens nailed a 36-yard field goal, giving the Bluejays a 24-7 halftime lead.
Another Tabor fumble led to the Vikings? first score of the second half. Having kept the drive alive by completing a 26-yard pass on fourth down, the Vikings added a 32-yard field goal, bringing the score to 24-10 with 3:56 left in the third quarter.
After the teams traded punts, Tabor scored its only points of the second half on a 25-yard Slavens field goal, for a 27-10 Bluejay advantage.
Colin Hodges cut the ensuing Viking drive short by intercepting Reyes? pass four plays in, but a McShan fumble three plays later set up a Missouri Valley score. On first down, the Vikings completed a 20-yard pass to the end zone. The extra-point kick narrowed the gap to 27-17 with 7:35 left in the game.
The Vikings? next two drives ended in interceptions courtesy of Matt McElroy and Donnell Davis, which allowed Tabor to run out the clock.
Tabor grabbed four interceptions in all.
?Our defense played fantastic,? Gardner said. ?We held them to 9 yards rushing and 116 total, and did a really great job of playing in the red zone.?
Gardner said it will be important for the Bluejays to limit their turnovers moving forward.
?The turnovers sometimes are just a result of the other team playing extraordinarily hard,? he said. ?And again, two of those turnovers that we had are also a result of having a brand new quarterback who was in there, and we had an exchange issue go on.?
Cole led Tabor?s rushing effort, putting up 88 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Through the air, McKee was 4-for-6 for 30 yards.
On defense, Davis, Derrick Lawrence and Ben Gardner each had five solo tackles. McElroy contributed four solo tackles, including two for loss. He was named KCAC Defensive Player of the Week. Lawrence and Gardner each had a quarterback sack.
?That was an outstanding football team that we beat,? Gardner said. ?They were bigger, faster and stronger, but we were better.?
Coming?With the win, Tabor improves to 2-0 on the season and ranks fourth in the NAIA Football Coaches? Top 25 Poll released Sept. 15. Tabor will kick off conference play Saturday at the University of Saint Mary (0-2). Game time is 1:30 p.m. The Spires enter the game after a 57-7 loss to Culver-Stockton.