ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ERIC CLARK
The Tabor football program broke unfamiliar ground Saturday as Bluejays erased an eight-year drought on the road with a 51-21 blowout of St. Mary College in Leavenworth.
Tabor’s last road victory came occurred in 1993. That team finished the season 4-4. Coach Tim McCarty’s Bluejays have matched that record already this season with two games to go. If they would pull off wins over Ottawa and McPherson in the next two week, Tabor would have its first winning season 1979.
“The bottom-line is that we’ve got four wins and we’ve also won on the road,” McCarty said after the game.
“(The road win) is huge,” he added. “We’re 4-4, we’ve got two games left, and we’re trying hard to get the next win.”
The first quarter of this game took an epic 55 minutes to complete. Neither team was productive offensively until St. Mary struck pay dirt with less than five minutes remaining on a Nate Gardner 19-yard run.
Tim Brown kicked the extra-point and the Spires led, 7-0.
On the next possession, the Bluejays marched six plays for an eventual 18-yard touchdown pass from Hernandez to Ratzlaff. Kicker Dylan Pohlman evened the score with a successful extra-point attempt.
On the next series, the Spires, facing fourth down and a half yard, picked up 18 yards on an end-around to secure the first down. That set up an 11-yard touchdown by Jacob Sledo to cap the seven-play drive. Brown added the extra point and the Spires took the lead for the second and last time of the game.
After Tabor’s Jason Phelps returned the kickoff into Spires’ territory, Hernandez found Nathan Funk for a 35-yard touchdown pass with 50 seconds left in the first quarter.
Pohlman connected on the extra point and the Bluejays and Spires were knotted at 14.
In the second quarter, the offenses from both teams struggled for consistency.
Pohlman’s punt with less than eight minutes left in the quarter was downed inside the St. Mary 3-yard line. The punt would prove positive for the Bluejays as defensive lineman Ryan Martin pulled down quarterback Brain Lewton in the end zone for a safety and a 16-14 Tabor lead.
After returning the St. Mary kickoff following the safety, Tabor put together a six-play drive that ended with a Pohlman 32-yard field goal with 4:30 left in the half.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Bluejays’ special teams forced a Spires’ fumble and Tauron Thomas came up with the loose ball.
On Tabor’s next play from scrimmage, Hernandez found Ratzlaff in the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown reception to give the Bluejays a 26-14 lead after Pohlman’s PAT.
Pohlman would add a 39-yard field goal with 1:36 left in the first half to push the advantage to 29-14.
Following a questionable defensive pass interference penalty on Tabor’s Jeremy Loewen-which contributed to an unsportsman-like conduct penalty on McCarty-the Spires were deep in Bluejay territory.
With 22 seconds left before intermission, the Spires scored for the last time on a Gardner four-yard run. Brown added the extra point and the Bluejays took a 29-21 lead into the locker rooms.
In the second half, Hernandez and Ratzlaff put on a quarterback/ receiver clinic.
At the 12:18 mark of the third period, Hernandez capitalized on a three-play drive by hitting Ratzlaff for a 46-yard touchdown. On the PAT attempt, Matt Insley took a bobbled snap into the end zone for the 2-point conversion and a 37-21 Bluejay lead.
Later in the third, Phelps picked off Lewton two times. The second interception led to Ratzlaff’s third touchdown reception from Hernandez from 12 yards out. Pohlman connected on the PAT for a 44-21 advantage at the 1:11 mark.
With 6:33 left in the fourth quarter, Ratzlaff took a Hernandez pass 24 yards for the final Bluejay touchdown. Pohlman added the point-after, giving Tabor the final 51-21 margin.
After the game, McCarty said his team didn’t play well with a big lead.
“We lost our focus,” McCarty said. “We got into a comfort zone, which is typical of our football team right now. We get a little lead, and we play like a cat with a mouse -we play with it before we eat it.”
Tabor got big numbers from Hernandez, who completed 18 of 44 passes for 345 yards and six touchdowns.
Ratzlaff was on the receiving end of 10 of those throws for 209 yards.
“Those two guys bring their game all the time,” McCarty said.
Tabor rolled up 541 yards total offense, including 196 on the ground-a refreshing turn of events for the Tabor coach.
“This is the first week we’ve had all of our backs since Sept. 9,” McCarty said.
McCarty also praised Phelps’ defensive effort.
“He had an unbelievable game,” he said. “He’s a quality player. He’s so smart and that’s what allows him to make plays.”
With three interceptions against St. Mary, Phelps is the conference leader in interceptions with six in eight games.
“As the game went on, I was able to get a hold of their offense and to read some of their routes,” Phelps said.
With the win, the Bluejays are sitting at sixth place in the KCAC with a 3-4 record. The Jays will host a tough Ottawa team this Saturday at 1:30 p.m.