With the loss, Tabor slid to 0-5 in conference play for the first time since 1999, and lost to the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference’s perennial whipping boy for the first time in five years.
But the Spires, aided by the rain and two critical fumbles, stepped out of their traditional role and stopped Tabor twice inside its 5-yard line in the first half.
“We go up there, we know the weather is going to be nasty from the start, and you always want to score early in those games,” coach Mike Gottsch said. “We got the ball down inside the 20 three times early, but we also had four turnovers in the first half—a couple of them down inside the five.”
The Saint Mary defense also provided an offensive spark late in the half. With Tabor pinned deep in its own territory by effective punt coverage in the waning moments of the second quarter, the Spires stormed around the Tabor line and hit quarterback Jason Aubrey 5 yards deep in his own end zone, just as he released a long throw.
The disrupted pass might have had a chance of finding its intended target, but the stiff wind knocked the ball down 10 yards shy—directly into the hands of a defensive back waiting patiently at the 30-yard line.
An opportunistic Saint Mary offense scored two plays later when quarterback Matt Warner threaded a pass to Charles Lee, who was sprinting toward the left pylon, a yard inside the goal line.
The completion went for 19 yards and gave the Spires a 7-0 lead 28 seconds left, despite their failure to put together even one credible offensive series.
“Turnovers happen,” Gottsch said. “Teams that step up and overcome them are successful, but we let it get to our emotions and attitude during halftime.
“Down 7-0 against a struggling team, that’s not impossible to come back from,” he added. “But when (Saint Mary) came out and scored first in the second half, it really changed the momentum of the game.”
Saint Mary running back Bryan Bosley broke the game open 22 seconds into the third quarter, picking up a handful of lead blocks on an off-tackle run to the right side and blasting through the Tabor secondary in the blink of an eye.
“Our defense played pretty well in the first half,” Gottsch said. “They got us some turnovers and some good opportunities, but we didn’t capitalize.
“I think the quick score had a lot to due with us coming out of halftime flat,” he added.
The extra point made it 14-0, and the Bluejays were suddenly in dire need of a score.
Tabor mounted a drive, and on third-and-10 from the Spires 41, a hitch-and-go pass play had Lance Stubbs running open down the left sideline. But Aubrey’s pass bounced away from the wide receiver just inside the 10-yard line.
On fourth down, a low snap got away from punter Derik Martinez, and the mistake gave Saint Mary a first-and-10 near midfield.
One long run by Trevor Winter put the Spires at the Tabor 10. Three plays later, Warner hammered his way into the end zone on a quarterback sneak.
With the point after, Saint Mary led 21-0 with 10:32 left in the third quarter.
Warner and the Spires struck again 8:06 later, completing a 28-yard pass to Willie Harris, setting up a 3-yard run by Bosley.
A missed extra point made it 27-0 with 2:26 left in the third.
Tabor fired back, picking up 20 yards on an option run by Aubrey and 32 yards on a play-action pass to Caleb Marsh.
A short run by Demetrius Cox ended the third quarter and set the stage for Aubrey to score Tabor’s first points on a 2-yard quarterback sneak eight seconds into the fourth quarter.
Playing for pride, the Bluejay defense forced a quick punt on Saint Mary’s next possession. After a short return by Marsh, Cox broke a 15-yard run, setting up first-and-10 at the Tabor 35.
Three incompletions later, Tabor lined up five receivers in a bid to convert on fourth down. But Aubrey’s pass was knocked away.
The Spires gained 35 yards and chewed up much of the remaining clock before kicking a 22-yard field goal with 6:49 to go.
Tabor lit up the scoreboard one final time on its last drive. Starting out at their own 20, the Bluejays advanced to the Saint Mary 35. Facing second-and-10, Aubrey was sacked for a 17-yard loss with 4:01 to go.
But Aubrey found Marsh for 22 yards on third down, bringing up a manageable fourth-and-5. Tabor swung for the fences, connecting on a 32-yard pass to Jason Medellin, and Martinez added the point-after with 3:02 left, making the final score 30-14.
It was only the second time Tabor has lost to Saint Mary in the history of the matchup.
Aubrey finished with 224 passing yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Cox finished with 57 rushing yards and lost two fumbles.
The Tabor defense caused five fumbles and forced the Spires into three turnovers, but also allowed 366 yards on 67 plays—an average of 5.5 yards per play.
“It’s not about one guy or two guys,” Gottsch said about the loss. “Football requires all 11 players on the field to take charge of their individual responsibilities and play as a unit. It is not enough to have nine or 10 guys working together.”
Coming—Tabor (1-5) plays Bethel (5-0) for the Bluejays’ homecoming. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. Saturday at Reimer Field.
Bethel did not play last week, but dismantled Southwestern 41-0 at the Threshers’ Oct. 6 homecoming game in North Newton.