The eighth-ranked Tabor College football team displayed positive strides mingled with miscues in its season-opening, 35-21, loss at No. 16 Dakota Wesleyan Saturday in the NAIA Football Game of the Week.
It was the look of a team trying to find its identity.
One of the biggest questions heading into camp was solidifying the quarterback position. Junior Trey Schmidt got the start and alternated snaps with junior transfer Curry Parham, who ended up playing a majority of the game under center when Schmidt left the game with a knee injury. Gardner said he didn’t yet know the extent of the injury.
“Our game-plan going in was to try to use both (quarterbacks),” Gardner said. “We were trying to find an identity early.
“The thing is, (we) don’t have five or six games or (a) preseason tournament to try to find that. We have one game. We’re still up in the air with who we are.”
Offensively, Tabor was shutout in the first quarter. Defense was a struggle too, as Dakota Wesleyan scored on its first three possessions thanks to a 4-yard run, a 61-yard pass and a wide-open 31-yard rush up the middle. The Tigers’ 21-0 lead held through the end of the first quarter. The only bright spot for the Bluejays was an interception by Kevin Golden late in the period to spoil any plans of a fourth Tiger touchdown.
Following a Bluejay interception early in the second quarter, Tabor’s defense forced Dakota Wesleyan to punt for the first time. That led to Tabor’s first touchdown when Charles Beale hauled in a 39-yard touchdown pass from Parham to cap a five-play, 55-yard drive. That put the Bluejays on the board, 21-7.
Dakota Wesleyan answered and regained a 21-point lead by scoring with 3:15 left in the half.
However, with the offense settling in behind Parham, the Bluejays covered 73 yards in 10 plays and scored with just 44 seconds left when Beale hauled in an 11-yard touchdown reception. Jared Slavens’ kick made it 28-14 at halftime.
A goal-line stand by the Bluejay defense highlighted the scoreless third quarter as Tabor denied the Tigers the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
Early in the fourth quarter, Dakota Wesleyan returned a punt for a touchdown to extend its lead to 35-14. Sean Kelley hauled in an interception with 3:10 left. That led to Tabor’s final score—a 66-yard touchdown strike from Parham to cap a six-play, 94-yard drive. The Tigers then were able to run out the clock to secure the 14-point victory.
Tabor rolled up 322 yards of offense, including 173 through the air and 149 on the ground. Dakota Wesleyan, meanwhile, tallied 509 yards of offense—312 rushing and 197 passing.
Coming—Following a bye week, Tabor (0-1) will host Ottawa at 7p.m. Sept. 17 in its KCAC opener. The Braves suffered a 62-0 beating at No. 3 Morningside.
Gardner said it is crucial to establish chemistry.
“For us to have a bye week can be good, but if you’re trying to find your identity, then it can also be a detriment,” he said, adding that identity formation will be established in a game environment.
“You cannot simulate in practice what you’re going to see in a game. You can come close, but you can’t because you don’t know how they’re going to react.”