ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ERIC CLARK
In a game that featured four lead changes and two ties, the Tabor Bluejays gave the Ottawa Braves a run for their money Saturday at Reimer Field but came up short, 36-29, in a hard-fought battle.
Had the Bluejays won Saturday’s game, they would have secured the college’s first non-losing record in 22 years. With the loss, Tabor will look to close out its season with a .500 record by beating McPherson on the road Saturday.
“It was a tough game,” coach Tim McCarty said of the Ottawa contest. “We had opportunities, but we just didn’t get it done.”
In the first quarter, Tabor put together a three-play drive that resulted in a David Hernandez one-yard touchdown run. After Dylan Pohlman kicked the extra point, the Bluejays were on top 7-0 and they maintained that lead through the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, the Braves kicked a 37-yard field goal and scored two touchdowns to take the lead, 16-7. Then, with 1:42 remaining in the first half, Tyson Ratzlaff grabbed a pass from Hernandez and completed the 64-yard touchdown play. Pohlman’s extra point narrowed the deficit to 16-14.
In the third quarter, Braves quarterback Roy Salas broke away from two tackles and then outran the Jays’ defense for a 34-yard touchdown. The Braves added the PAT and took a 23-14 lead with 7:16 left in the third quarter.
Hernandez then orchestrated a six-play drive that ended in another Ratzlaff touchdown catch, this one from nine yards out. After the PAT by Pohlman, Tabor trailed 23-21.
In the fourth quarter, the Bluejays again marched down the field. This time, Hernandez capped the drive with a one-yard plunge for the touchdown.
Suddenly, the Bluejays were back in front, 23-29, after Hernandez threw for the 2-point conversion.
The lead didn’t last long, though. On their next play from scrimmage on the ensuing kickoff, Ottawa’s Roy Salas hooked up with Timon Marshall for a 72-yard touchdown pass. The Tabor defense stopped the extra-point and the score was knotted, 29-29, with 12:35 seconds remaining in the game.
The Braves added a Marshall five-yard touchdown run and the PAT with 8:09 left in the fourth to account for the final margin.
But the Bluejays threatened a couple of times late in the fourth quarter. On the final effort, Ottawa defense forced Hernandez outside the pocket. Sprinting to the sideline, Hernandez fired a pass toward Ratzlaff, but the ball was picked off by a Brave defender to ward off a Bluejay comeback.
With the loss, the Bluejays drop to 4-5 overall and 3-5 in the KCAC.
“There were a lot of tears,” McCarty said. “But I was real pleased with their effort.”
Hernandez completed 17 of 47 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns. He also was intercepted four times by the Ottawa defense.
“We didn’t do something right, but I’m not faulting him,” McCarty said of his quarterback. “He’s trying to win, but it didn’t work out.”
Tyler Marsh had seven catches for 104 yards and Ratzlaff had three for 82 yards and two touchdowns.
Tracy Wehrman led the defense with nine tackles and one assist. Keith Herl, Chad Duerksen and Kyle Holzheuser each registered one sack.
Lavonne Smith and Jason Phelps each had an interception against the Braves.
“Our defense played hard,” McCarty said. “You may or may not see that in our stats, it was an extremely physical team, and I’m extremely proud of my team.
“Bottom-line is that we’re a better football team than we were last year. We’ve just got to finish it.”
The Bluejays will look to do just that on Saturday as they travel to McPherson College and try to become only the second team in Tabor football history to win more than four games in a single season.
Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.