ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ERIC CLARK
For the past three years, Tabor Football coach Tim McCarty has been searching for his team’s identity. He may have found it in his own backyard Saturday on the way to a 35-10 victory over the Colorado College Tigers, the same team that beat the Bluejays 31-6 a year ago at Colorado Springs, Colo.
Instead of being on the short end of a first-quarter blowout, this time Tabor was on the long end, jumping to a commanding 21-3 lead behind the arm and legs of Bluejays’ shifty new quarterback Willie Lopez.
The Bluejays’ first drive of the game culminated in a one-yard touchdown run by Cameron Conant at the 11:36 mark. Dylan Pohlman’s extra point was good, giving Tabor a 7-0 lead.
After Brian Wahl recovered a fumble on the Tiger’s next possession, Pohlman tried a 42-yard field goal but missed.
Threatening to score with a fourth-and-four inside Tabor’s 10-yard line, Tiger quarterback Jay Macias’s pass was batted down by Tabor’s outside linebacker Damian Ratzlaff.
After Tabor ran two running plays for no gain, Lopez found a streaking Tyler Marsh across the middle of the field for a 95-yard touchdown reception. Pohlman added the PAT and Tabor went up 14-0 with 4:55 left in the first quarter.
Colorado would got on the board with a 24-yard field goal with 2:17 left to cut Tabor’s lead to 14-3.
But on the ensuing kickoff, Tabor’s Tauron Thomas carried the ball 55 yards to the Tigers’ 32-yard line.
On the next play, Lopez scrambled out of the pocket and found his way into the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown. Pohlman hit the PAT, giving Tabor a 21-3 lead, which they carried into the second-quarter.
Late in the second period, the Bluejays struck again when Lopez hit Tyson Ratzlaff on a crossing pattern for a 19-yard touchdown.
The drive spanned 10 plays and 82 yards. Pohlman’s PAT was good again and Tabor went into the locker room up by a whopping 28-3
The Tigers drove the length of the field on their second possession of the third quarter and threatened to score.
But on a fourth-and-goal situation, defensive end Chad Duerksen burst through the Tigers’ offensive line to stop the Colorado drive.
Both teams were scoreless in the third quarter.
Early in the final period, Conant slipped outside the right guard and slipped into the end zone for the Bluejays’ fifth and final touchdown.
After another Pohlman PAT, Tabor was out in front, 35-3.
Colorado finally hit paydirt at the 8:46 mark of the fourth quarter on a 32-yard pass from Macais to Bill Craig. The Tigers added the final point of the game with a successful PAT, making the score 35-10.
After the game, McCarty praised the play of his team.
“We had first-game jitters, but our kids played hard,” McCarty said. “We’ve got some kids who believe in what we’re doing and they believe in the word ‘team.’ It’s really nothing more than that.”
McCarty said experience is what has helped his team improve from last season
“The difference this year is we’re a year older,” McCarty said. “The kids believe in what we’re trying to do here they were recruited on the premise of wanting to pull off something special. The guys who heard that call are here and want to pull it off.”
The Bluejays amassed 355 total yards on offense, passing for 200 yards and rushing for 155.
Lopez completed 50 percent of his passes going 9-for-18 for 200 yards, throwing for two touchdowns and two interceptions.
McCarty said he was pleased with his quarterback’s performance.
“Willie made some plays today,” McCarty said. “He has an extra gear that can run and he’s real patient.”
“You want to see him make some plays when the pocket collapses and when he comes up, that’s an extra threat.”
Marsh caught two passes for 99 yards to lead Tabor’s receiving corps.
Defensively, the Bluejays were lead by Hillsboro freshman defensive back Jeremy Loewen, who had seven tackles, forced one fumble and snagged an interception in his Bluejay debut.
“They’ll chase you,” McCarty said of his defense. “I think we hustled defensively. They really pitched a shutout until we were flopping around there at the end.”
A host of former HHS standouts came up big in Tabor’s first game.
“Hillsboro was well respected on the field today,” McCarty said. “Those guys are playmakers. They’re used to winning.”
McCarty said that his team is not quite where he wants to be.
“We’ve just got a quiet, nervous camp,” McCarty said. “We’re trying to figure out how we can play as a team and win football games.”
Tabor will host heated rival Bethel College this Saturday at 7 p.m.