LINDSBORG — It’s taken a little longer this time, but Mike Gardner is working his magic again at Tabor College.
In Gardner’s first stint at Tabor, he was 20-3 with two KCAC championships. He left to coach for four years in Ohio, but returned to Tabor in 2010, but the first two years did not yield the previous success.
But now the magic is back. The Bluejays are in the thick of the KCAC title hunt and Saturday they took another step toward the championship with a 44-7 rout of Bethany, spoiling the Swedes’ homecoming.
And this was a no-doubt-about-it performance. While Bethany hung tough in trailing only 17-7 at halftime, it was all Bluejays in the second half, as their relentless option game, rugged defense and dominating special teams made it a long day for the Swedes.
Tabor is now 4-1 in the KCAC and tied with Kansas Wesleyan and Ottawa for the top spot. Friends and McPherson College had entered the day also with one loss, but both were defeated Saturday to drop a game back.
Bethany, meanwhile, is fading fast, as its fourth straight loss left it at 1-4 in the KCAC, 2-5 overall, and staring at back-to-back road games the next two weeks at Friends and Ottawa, respectively.
Bethany coach Jamie Cruce offered no excuses.
“Turnovers and the opponent we played — they just whipped our butt,” Cruce said as reasons the Swedes were blown out. “We did a pretty good job in the first half. We just couldn’t do anything the second half. Defensively, we put ourselves in a bad position with all the turnovers that we had on offense in the second half.”
Cruce certainly endorses the Bluejays as a potential KCAC champion.
“Tabor is a real fine football team and we would have had to play very well (to win),” he said. “I thought we had something going in the first half, but just too many mental errors in the second half.”
The Bluejays, who did not commit a turnover, rushed for 253 yards, with James Monroe leading the way with 91 on 18 carries and a score, while Nate Harrison had 61 yards and two scores. Simon McKee did a masterful job working the option, but also passed for 101 yards and two touchdowns, one to Brandon Johnson and the other to Roger Mujica. The Bluejays recorded a defensive touchdown as well on a 44-yard interception return by Nik France, and special teams contributed with a 21-yard Joe Cannon field goal.
Bethany’s only score was a 16-yard pass from Darby House to James Johnson in the second quarter, when Tabor had a mixup in coverage and nobody was near Johnson. The Swedes shot themselves in the foot with five turnovers, four of them interceptions. One bright spot was Brandon Martino, who had eight catches for 103 yards. But the Swedes were held to 16 yards on the ground and had to chuck it 48 times, completing just 18.
Tabor is off Saturday before hosting winless Bethel on Oct. 27. The Jays also have Southwestern and Friends left to play.