ORIGINALLY WRITTEN ERIC CLARK
Mud, rain and cold weather weren’t enough to stop Tabor College Saturday afternoon against Ottawa.
The Bluejays stole a win against the Braves, 7-4, in Ottawa. Tabor marched 60 yards on 11 plays with less than five minutes remaining in the game to pull ahead with a little over a minute left in the game.
After three consecutive close games, Bluejays coach Tim McCarty said the outcome of Saturday’s contest was a fitting reminder of how tough KCAC games are week in and week out.
“Every game is becoming a battle,” McCarty said. “There’s really eight good teams in our conference who are playing extremely well. We’ve had three barn-burners and we came out on top and got the monkey off our back.”
From the beginning, the Bluejays and the Braves struggled to do anything offensively. Instead, both team’s defenses took center stage on a field laden with mud and water.
“Our defense is as good as anybody in the KCAC and maybe even in the nation,” McCarty said. “We’ll have another slug-fest again this weekend.”
Tabor’s defense held the Braves to 89 total yards in the first half and 236 yards for the game. The Bluejay defense never allowed the Braves to cross the end zone the entire afternoon. In fact, the Jays stopped the Braves three times on fourth-and-short situations within a stride of the end zone.
Meanwhile, Ottawa held the Bluejay offense to just 213 yards.
After a scoreless first quarter and numerous mistakes by both teams, the Braves picked up two points when Tabor, facing a fourth down on its 2-yard line, elected to snap the ball out of the end zone to avoid setting up Ottawa for a possible touchdown.
The Braves took the 2-0 lead with 5:35 remaining in the second quarter.
The third quarter looked a lot like the first one, as neither team was able to capitalize offensively.
But after holding the Braves at the Tabor 2-yard line for the second time of the game, the Bluejays were faced with the same dilemma as in the first half. This time, Olando Harris was tackled in the end zone, giving the Braves a 4-0 lead with 8:05 remaining in the game.
When Tabor kicked to Ottawa the Braves looked poised to score the first touchdown of the game. The Black-and-Gold marched all the way to the Tabor 1-yard line. There, the Jays dug in and stuffed the Braves for the third time at the goal line.
Tabor went three-and-out on their next possession and punted the ball back to the Braves with a little under seven minutes left in the game.
After forcing the Braves to punt, Tabor’s momentum fueled a dramatic comeback.
With the ball on the Brave 40-yard line, the Tabor offense went to work with less than five minutes to go.
Running back Cameron Conant took charge during the series, rattling off three crucial runs that eventually set up Dave Hernandez’s 1-yard touchdown. Kicker Keenan Morris added the PAT kick and Tabor lead 7-4 with a little over a minute remaining.
The Braves decided to place All-American defensive back and second-string quarterback Roy Salas back to receive the kick. Salas streaked down the field and looked like he might split Tabor’s defense.
But with a sounding blow, Hillsboro native Carson Greenhaw knocked the ball out of Salas’ hands and the Bluejays recovered the fumble to seal the win.
Freshman Jake Schenk spearheaded the Bluejay defense with seven solo tackles and two tackles for a loss. Tracy Wehrman had one sack and Chad Duerksen and Jason Phelps were both credited with an assisted sack.
Hernandez completed 10-of-24 pass for 103 yards. He had one interception and the game-winning touchdown.
Tyler Marsh led all receivers with six catches for 42 yards, but was side-lined late in the game after reaggravating his ankle injury.
Harris and Conant combined for 81 yards on 33 carries.
Coming-With the win, Tabor improved to 5-3 overall, equalling their win total from last season with two games remaining on the schedule. The Jays are 4-3 in the KCAC and will play host to Southwestern Saturday at Reimer Field. Game time is 1:30 p.m.