ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ERIC CLARK
The Tabor Bluejays got on the board early and often Saturday at McPherson College for a 57-26 win over the Bulldogs.
The win marks a milestone for the Bluejays, who finished 5-5-only the third non-losing season since the program was launched in 1967. The Bluejays also finished at .500 (4-4) in 1993 and posted their only winning season (7-3) in 1979.
“Our kids played hard and stayed focused all season long,” coach Tim McCarty said. “My guys’ attitude was championship, and I’m real proud of them.”
Tabor started the scoring parade early when halfback Tyler Marsh threw to quarterback David Hernandez for a 30-yard gain at the 13:22 mark of the opening quarter.
Several plays later, Hernandez turned a fourth-and-one into a Tabor touchdown with a four-yard run.
On the extra-point attempt, kicker Dylan Pohlman picked up a botched snap and eluded several McPherson defenders before diving into the end zone for the 2-point conversion.
In the second quarter, Pohlman was tackled on an attempted punt, giving the Bulldogs excellent field position in Tabor territory.
McPherson drove to inside Tabor’s 10-yard line when defensive back Jason Phelps jumped in front of a Mac defender, and intercepted a pass and ran 99 yards for the touchdown. Pohlman added the PAT and the Bluejays led, 15-0.
On Tabor’s next possession, Stephen Seaman broke through for a 30-yard scoring run. Pohlman added the extra point to push the Jays’ lead to 22-0.
After the Tabor defense stopped McPherson short of a first down late in the second quarter, Marsh caught a Hernandez pass and juked his way down to the 2-yard line.
Defensive lineman and shor yardage specialist Ryan Martin then burst through the Bulldog defense for a one-yard touchdown on the next play. Pohlman connected on the extra point for a 29-0 lead.
After the defense stopped McPherson on the subsequent possession, the Bluejays capitalized on the opportunity with a quarterback-to-wide-receiver-to-quarterback pass from Hernandez to Marsh and back to Hernandez for a 47-yard touchdown.
Pohlman added the PAT and Bluejays took a 36-0 lead into the locker room.
In the second half, McPherson put together a drive that led to a touchdown pass from Wade Pederson to Omar Mireles from two yards out. Ziya Gunay kicked the PAT to put McPherson on a comeback trail, 36-7.
With 7:12 left in the third quarter, McPherson got a big break when Hernandez was sacked and coughed up the ball. A Mac defender picked up the loose ball and galloped 26 yards for a touchdown. Gunay added the PAT and Tabor’s lead was cut to 36-14.
Willie Lopez, filling in at quarterback after Hernandez was shaken up on the Bluejays’ previous possession, found Tyson Ratzlaff in the end zone for a four-yard touchdown. After a successful Pohlman PAT, the Bluejays were safely ahead, 43-14.
Senior wide-receiver Nathan Funk added a 57-yard touchdown catch from Hernandez late in the third quarter to put the Jays up 50-14 after Pohlman’s extra point.
After the defense pinned the Bulldogs inside their 10-yard line, Tabor’s Brian Woodman burst through the line to block the punt on fourth down. Woodman picked up the ball and ran it in from two yards out. Pohlman connected on his last PAT as a Bluejay to give Tabor a 57-14 advantage.
McPherson added two touchdowns late in the fourth to narrow the gap, but never really threatened.
After the game, McCarty praised his five seniors on completing their careers at Tabor.
“Those five guys were here when I got here,” McCarty said. “They were five of the original 14, and it’s unbelievable that they stayed. They deserve a presidential medallion for staying in our program.
“They’ve been here through the thick and thin,” he added. “I’m happy they got to be a part of the group that got it turned around.”
Hernandez threw for 222 yards and one touchdown completing 11 of 18 passes. The Tabor quarterback also ran for a touchdown and caught a pass for a touchdown.
Tyler Marsh led all receivers with five catches for 112 yards.
On defense, Kyle Holzheuser collected eight tackles, one assist and one sack.
With the 99-yard touchdown interception, Phelps finished his season leading the KCAC with eight interceptions in 10 games.
“I just stepped in front of him,” Phelps said. “I even called it the play before. I was running and all of sudden I couldn’t feel my legs at about the 20, and I looked back and the guy was gaining on me. I was thinking, if it’s close I’m diving from the five.”
Phelps was named to the All-KCAC first team as a defensive back. Kicker Pohlman and wide-receiver Ratzlaff also made the first team.
The Bluejays finished the season fifth in the KCAC with a 4-5 record.
“We’re that close to being in the upper echelon and going to playoffs,” Phelps said. “It’s a huge turnaround from last year.”
“We’re excited about next year,” McCarty added. “We’re going to hit the road seriously so we can build upon what we’ve done.”