Finishing strong

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DALE BRUBACHER
Offense took center stage in the first half of the game between Tabor College and McPherson College in Hillsboro Saturday. Defense dominated the second half.



And though McPherson edged Tabor in the 51-point first half offensive blitz, the second half defensive struggle favored the Bluejays as the home team nipped the Bulldogs 31-27 for their third win of the season.



Tabor’s Henry Cantu caught a 30-yard touchdown pass from Travis Davis for the only second-half score. The touchdown erased the Bulldogs 27-24 halftime lead.



Not that McPherson didn’t threaten. After exchanging punts and turnovers for the first six possessions of the second half, the Bulldogs marched inside the Tabor 25-yard line on their next three attempts.



The Bluejay defense stiffened on all three occasions, however, and, after the third try, the Tabor offense quickly moved down the field for the four-play, 80-yard touchdown drive.



Cantu’s game-winning sliding catch in the end zone came with 4:19 left to play.



McPherson opened the scoring when Tabor botched a handoff and Bulldog defensive lineman Ryan Ben-David scooped up the fumble and ran nine yards for the touchdown. The point-after try failed and McPherson led 6-0 with 8:39 remaining in the first quarter.



Tabor’s next drive stalled at McPherson’s 25-yard line but the Bluejays faked the field goal attempt and holder Matt Insley connected with Gary Sharp who rumbled into the end zone. Dylan Pohlman’s kick gave Tabor a 7-6 lead with 5:24 left in the first period.



Bluejay cornerback Jared Johnson intercepted a pass on the next series of downs and returned the ball 39 yards to the 6-yard line. Tabor was unable to find the end zone, though, and settled for a 22-yard Pohlman field goal to take a 10-6 lead at the 2:15 mark.



The Bulldogs tallied two unanswered touchdowns in the second quarter, the first on an 18-yard run by Jay Williams, and the second on a 24-yard pass from Jason Gondringer to Omar Mireles.



With the two kicks by Nate Eggman, McPherson doubled the Bluejays 20-10 with 9:06 remaining in the half.



Tabor responded with two unanswered touchdowns of its own, beginning with the Bluejays’ next possession.



The drive took only one play as Davis hooked up with Cantu, who outraced the McPherson defenders for a 60-yard touchdown.



After the Cantu score, a 69-yard Williams run moved the ball to the Tabor 5-yard line.



But the Bluejays held and three possessions later Nathan Funk took a lateral pass from Davis and launched the ball downfield to Jeff MacKinnon, who outleaped two Bulldog defenders to make the 27-yard touchdown grab.



Pohlman’s kick gave Tabor ahead 24-20 with 1:55 left in the half.



The lead was short-lived, though, as a 41-yard Harold Harris kickoff return and a 36-yard pass from Gondringer to John Berlanga moved the ball to the 1-yard line. Tabor held for two downs before they plunged in from the one.



Those were the final points allowed by the Bluejay defense.



Andy Froese keyed the defensive effort combining for 17 stops with 11 tackles and six assists. Derrick Roberson, with six tackles and three assists, and Matt Webber, with four tackles and five assists, halted nine Bulldog efforts each. Chad Duerksen, playing with a partially torn biceps, and Cory Brack had five tackles each.



Davis threw for 301 yards with 16 completions on 42 attempts. He had one interception.



Tyson Ratzlaff, on four catches, and Cantu, on three, each collected 105 yards receiving. MacKinnon had six catches for 93 yards.



Tyler Marsh led the rushing attack with 47 yards on 12 carries.



The Bluejays finished the season with a 3-7 record. Tabor was 0-10 a year ago.



Tabor coach Tim McCarty was especially pleased that his two seniors, Cantu and Brack, had successful games in their final outing.



“It was really nice to see Henry get two TDs and Corey to step up and get a sack,” he said.



Cantu was just glad to get the victory and witness the improvement of the team.



“I just hoped that we could win,” he said. “But it’s great to have a good game.



“From the first time we practiced until now, we’re a new team. Next year, look out. I’m glad that I was able to help build the foundation.”



McCarty said that the team still has a lot of work to do but made huge steps this season.



“We asked ourselves if we got better and we answered ‘yes,'” he said. “But our kids still have to get bigger, stronger and faster.



“Our kids hung in there. And I really appreciate the work the assistant coaches did this year. They really had to work hard.”

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