The congratulations from players and well-wishers poured in for head coach Mike Gardner Saturday after the Tabor Bluejays upset the MidAmerica Nazarene University Pioneers, ranked 10th in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
Tabor was ranked 17th going into the game.
“When the clock expired, my first reaction was ‘Wow, [the game]’s finally over,’” he said.
Gardner coached the Bluejays to playoff success in 2004 and 2005, leaving to coach at Malone University (Ohio) from 2006-09.
He returned in 2010 to a Tabor team that had just come off a 0-10 season.
“The thing that I have worked hard to do over my last few years is try to stay calm and just enjoy it, because life’s short and these moments are fleeting,” he said.
The 21-13 victory was a back-and-forth contest that began with an opening drive interception by Tabor’s Donnell Davis, who returned it 27 yards.
A couple of plays later, running back James Monroe would punch in the game’s first touchdown from 7 yards out, with 11 minutes, 24 seconds left in the first quarter.
Neither team would score again until the second quarter, when MidAmerica would score all of its points.
The Pioneers drove 15 plays from their own 31-yard line to tie the game on a touchdown pass from quarterback Trent Hedlund to LaDon Hudson with 8:57 remaining in the half.
After a stalled drive, Tabor punted, leading to a 49-yard return by MidAmerica’s Michael Lindsey to the Tabor 37. The Bluejays would commit two penalties that resulted in automatic first downs, but the Pioneers would only get a field goal, taking the lead 10-7.
MidAmerica would kick another field goal on its next drive, taking a 13-7 lead to the half.
After Pioneer kicker Michael Brewer missed his third field goal try, Tabor scored in six plays on another Monroe touchdown. Cody Coleman made the play of the drive, breaking a 58-yard rush a play after a MidAmerica defender had been down on the field for a brief period.
Tabor led 14-13 to begin the fourth quarter, and gained good field position after stopping a fake punt at midfield.
The offense made quick work of the short field, driving 51 yards in five plays, capped by a 22-yard touchdown run by quarterback Simon McKee.
MidAmerica went into its hurry-up offense after getting the ball back, moving the ball into Tabor territory. Tabor’s defense would again hold forcing the Pioneers to kick a field goal they would again miss.
Tabor got the ball back on its own 25-yard line, and would not give up possession again, burning out the clock on 13 consecutive runs.
“I just think we did a tremendous job with clock management at the end of this game, and our offensive line, our offense took it over,” Gardner said.”
On the final drive, Monroe carried the ball 11 times. He would finish with 171 yards on 37 carries.
“Unreal isn’t he?” Gardner said. “He’s a special player, and just a special person, and I couldn’t be happier for him and his effort.”
Gardner credited the defense for only giving up one touchdown to the Pioneers.
“That’s what we did last week against Nebraska Wesleyan too,” he said. “Anytime you only give up one touchdown to a team that’s that good, that’s pretty impressive I think.”
The Bluejays again play at home at 7 p.m. Saturday against the University of St. Mary.