HILLSBORO — When McPherson College football coach Paul Mierkiewicz looked across the field on Saturday, he saw a Tabor program that he hopes to someday emulate.
It was Senior Day and 22 players were honored. The Bluejays’ depth chart listed an offense and defense basically consisting of all seniors and juniors.
Meanwhile Mierkiewicz, who basically began building this Mac program from scratch when he was hired as he had only about 25 players left to work with when he arrived, can use one hand to count the number of seniors he has.
The experience factor was evident as Tabor rolled to a 47-19 victory to remain tied for the KCAC lead with Kansas Wesleyan, while Saint Mary dropped out of the lead after being embarrassed on Saturday by Sterling College.
A howling wind made it a game of field position and in the first half the Jays’ scoring drives totaled just 96 yards as their special teams were tremendous with long punt and kickoff returns.
“Our overall team speed has to increase,” Mierkiewicz said. “We were in position to make some plays with our best players, but just couldn’t get caught up.”
After a 0-0 first quarter, Tabor scored 26 points in the second period to lead 26-7. The killer was late in the half when Mac got on the board with 55 seconds left on a 9-yard strike from Ed Crouch to Justin Fagan, but it then allowed a long kickoff return and had a personal foul. Tabor wound up scoring in 35 seconds to turn a competitive 20-7 game and momentum on the Bulldogs’ side to deflation going into the locker room.
The Bulldogs moved the ball well in the second half and scored twice, one on a Crouch 30-yard dart to Jackson Goodmiller and the other a Tyrone Campbell 1-yard run.
Crouch looked more like his old self in the second half with a couple of magical scrambles, finishing with 94 yards on 19 carries. Campbell added 67 on 17 attempts.
But Tabor’s methodical offense produced 455 yards, yet no rusher had more than 74 and the top receiver had 43. While it was nothing flashy, it was remarkably consistent and featured a veritable stable of running backs while Mac used only two.
It was another amazing day for Travis Steenson, who was piled up 19 more tackles. Dalton Whitfield added 12.
Tabor had a defensive star of its own as Evan Sprayberry, one of the few sophomore front-line players, had an amazing five sacks as the Bulldogs simply couldn’t get him blocked.
Sterling, which may be the country’s hottest offensive team right now, hosts Mac next week. The Warriors have been averaging close to 60 points the last four weeks, including 70 points against Bethel. They scored 51 on Saturday against Saint Mary, which had been the KCAC’s No. 1 defense going into the game.
Mierkiewicz is hoping his team can engage in a shootout with the Warriors.
“I think there’s some things we can get done offensively,” Mierkiewicz said. “Our guys are excited. We’re saying all the right things in the locker room. There’s no quit in the locker room.”