Tabor stumbles to 0-3 at Panhandle State

The Tabor College football team made its longest road trip of the year to face the one team on its schedule that the Bluejays defeated last year. But after a 300-plus mile drive, Oklahoma Panhandle State University thumped the visitors 31-15, making the drive home a long one.

But the Tabor defense played its best game of the season so far. The Bluejays held the Aggies to -11 rushing yards on 28 attempts and, including pass plays, limited Panhandle State a mere 4.4 yards-per-play average.

Led by linebacker Jarvis Major, the Bluejays forced three turnovers, recorded four sacks and notched seven tackles for loss. Major recorded four tackles in the Aggie backfield, twice having a hand in sacking Vinny Gay and blowing apart three run play, the sum total of which cost Panhandle State 46 yards.

Joe Wuest, Terence George and Adam Dirks also had sacks. George forced two fumbles and recovered one. Dirks added two other tackles for loss, and Mario Nava grabbed an interception.

But just when the Bluejay defense made good on coach Mike Gottsch?s preseason goal of stopping the run, the Tabor offense dropped the ball.

?If you look at the numbers of turnovers, we?re doing much better than we were last season, by a lot,? Gottsch said. ?And our running backs have been outstanding at protecting the ball.?

But Tabor threw four interceptions, one of which turned the game on its head. The Bluejays also fumbled three times, but recovered all three.

Tabor fell behind 7-0 on a 58-yard punt return but bounced back with a 31-yard field goal by Marcus Manny. The Bluejay defense stymied the Aggies three straight times, forcing and recovering a fumble to stop a drive early in the second quarter.

Then came the pivotal interception. After the Panhandle turnover, Tabor surged out to midfield, but was brought to a jarring halt by Quintin Green, who stepped in front of freshman quarterback Marc Amos? intended receiver to secure an interception. Green then rumbled 59 yards the other direction for a ?pick-six? touchdown.

?We had trouble with our quarterbacks on Saturday,? Gottsch said. ?We have to make good decisions about throwing the ball, and we have to stop staring down our receivers.?

?But we?re making strides in a lot of other areas, and our quarterbacks will grow up very fast of the next couple of weeks,? he added.

But the Bluejay offense continued to sputter through the remainder of the half, with turnovers contributing to the Aggies building a 25-3 lead.

Tabor got untracked briefly late in the quarter driving 61 yards in six plays on a series capped off by Demetrius Cox, who plowed into the end zone from a yard out 2:24 ahead of the halftime bell.

A 2-point conversion try failed, but the Bluejay defense stepped up to force a punt. But the offense stayed stuck in neutral, losing eight yards on first down and throwing another interception.

Panhandle State jumped all over the opporunity to add a quick score, punching in a touchdown to make it 31-9 heading into the intermission.

The Bluejay defense remained solid and shut the Aggies out the rest of the way, but Tabor was not able to mount a sustained comeback, scoring only on a touchdown pass from Bryan Knighton to Phillip Robben in the third quarter.

Gottsch said that Robben did everything right on a possible touchdown late in the game, except for the catch.

?He scored on a fade route,? Gottsch said. ?On one of our last drives, he made a beautiful move to separate himself from the defender, but just didn?t come down with the ball.?

?But Phil was definitely our offensive player of the week this week,? he said.

Playing with one leg injured early in the game, Cox totaled 92 yards from scrimmage: 71 on 18 runs for a 3.9 yards-per-carry average, and two catches, one of which went for 19 yards.

?Demetrius didn?t have his usual burst, but still hit the crease very hard,? Gottsch said. ?But where he would have had opportunities for long runs, he just didn?t have the speed to pull away after he hurt his ankle.?

Updating the status of other early-season injuries, Gottsch said seniors Jason Aubrey (head) and Darrin Fisher (back) are all but certain to miss the remainder of the season.

Coming ?Tabor (0-3) hosts Friends (3-0) for homecoming at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4. Friends became the first team in the conference to collect three wins, defeating Bethany 42-6. That win, combined with Bethel?s 24-3 loss at Sterling over the weekend, leaves the Falcons the only undefeated team in the KCAC.

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