Jays end 23-year victory drought against Builders

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The Tabor Bluejay football team bounced back from last week’s disappointing 27-3 loss to Ottawa by traveling to Winfield and defeating Southwestern 35-28 Saturday.

In the process, Tabor broke a losing streak to the Moundbuilders that extended to 1980.

“There’s no doubt our kids came back and wanted to win this game,” a jubilant coach Tim McCarty said. “Our kids had an incredibly focused week of practice.”

But the Bluejays didn’t appear to be focused initially.

After stopping the Moundbuilders on their first possession, Tabor took control of the ball on their own 14-yard line with 12:43 to play in the first quarter.

But Dwayne Cleaves put the ball on the mist-slickened turf and Southwestern recovered the fumble on the Tabor 48-yard line.

Two plays later, sophomore running back James Kelley skirted the left side of the Tabor defense and ran 40 yards for a touchdown with 9:31 left in the quarter.

“We had our defensive back jump inside and they got him pinned inside,” McCarty said. “It was just a blown part of the system.”

Bouncing back, Ernest Garza returned the kickoff 28 yards to the Tabor 41.

Just three plays later, Ricky Ishida found seldom-used wide receiver Mike Beach across the middle, and the sophomore took it for a 48-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.

“That was a great catch,” McCarty said. “I was happy for Mike. He’s a good receiver, but sometimes you don’t get to see our young receivers in games.

“We’re so deep at receiver, but you can’t take Tyson (Ratzlaff) or Tyler (Marsh) off the field,” he added. “They’ve earned their time to play. But these young guys will get their chances, too.”

The first quarter ended in a tie, with several possession exchanges. But with 13:49 left in the half, Jeremy Loewen picked off a Zac Smith pass on the Southwestern 37-yard line.

Six plays later, Cameron Conant made the Moundbuilders pay by pounding into the end zone from five yards out to give Tabor its first lead at 14-7 with 11:08 to play in the half.

Following another exchange of punts, Southwestern regained control of the ball on the Tabor 44-yard line with 7:50 left in the half.

Smith threw to Antony White for 23 yards to give Southwestern the ball on the 7-yard line.

Three plays later, Brandon Williams scored from one yard out to tie the game at 14-14 with 4:03 to left in the half.

But Tabor never blinked and pushed the ball right back downfield. A first-and-10 pass from Ishida to Ratzlaff for 42 yards put Tabor in business at the 22.

Three plays later, Ishida called his own number, bootlegged around the left side and scored from 10 yards out, putting Tabor back on top 21-14, a lead the Bluejays took into the locker room.

It didn’t take long for Tabor to add to its lead in the second half. Starting at the 37-yard line, Ishida mixed the pass and run, completing four straight passes on the drive, the big one being a 34-yarder to Marsh.

Facing first and goal on the five, Ishida found Ratzlaff, who leaped over the defender to made the grab in the end zone, and the Bluejays led 28-14 with just three minutes gone in the half.

“Ishida is healthy again and that makes a huge difference,” McCarty said. “He did a great job and I was really happy with his decision making and happy with the whole team today.”

McCarty said it was nice to see the second half begin as it did.

“We haven’t had a drive to start the second half like that all year,” he said. “I thought our play selection and formations kept them guessing all day on defense.”

But Southwestern, playing on Senior Day and Family Day, didn’t want to disappoint their faithful.

Following a 30-yard kickoff return, the Moundbuilders drove 52 yards in eight plays, scoring on a 13-yard run by Andrew Pearson.

The kick was good, and the Bluejay lead was whittled back to seven at 28-21, with 7:14 to play in the third quarter.

Showing resiliency, the Bluejays again fought back. Kicking away from Marsh, Southwestern put the ball in the hands of Garza, who responded with a return of 16 yards to the 38.

Ishida again mixed the run and pass, including a 17-yard dash of his own.

On second and seven from the Southwestern 22, Ishida found Ratzlaff in the end zone and the senior standout wrestled the ball from the Moundbuilder defender for another touchdown.

With that catch, Ratzlaff surpassed NAIA Hall of Famer Bay Lawrence for the most points scored in a career at Tabor College.

Keenan Morris added his fifth extra point of the day and Tabor was again on top by 14, 35-21, with 4:39 to play in the third quarter.

That’s the way the game remained until Southwestern took over on downs with 8:17 left in the game. A nine-play drive culminated with a touchdown pass from Smith to White of 11 yards with just 4:05 to play.

Trailing 35-28, Southwestern opted to forego the on-side kick and put the burden squarely on the shoulders of their defense.

But the weight was too much for the Moundbuilders. Tabor racked up three first downs, partly on the strength and quickness of running back Tim Jones, a seldom used player from Fort Worth, Texas.

“Tim Jones is a young guy who has good speed,” McCarty said. “They were giving us the edge and we tried to expose that a little bit today.”

The Bluejays ran out the clock for a 35-28 win, and exorcised a losing streak of 23 years.

“I thought our kids played well,” McCarty said. “To come down here on the road and get a KCAC win, especially here at Southwestern, is just a great win for us.”

In the process of raising their record to 8-1 on the season and 7-1 in the KCAC, the Bluejays established a team record for most victories in a season, and McCarty became the all-time winningest coaches in Tabor history.

“I might be the winningest coach in history, but I still don’t even have a winning record,” McCarty chuckled after the game.

Although winning by just seven points, the Bluejay offense rolled up 463 yards of total offense, with 172 of that coming on the ground and Ishida going 16-for-23 for 291 passing yards and three touchdowns.

Tabor set a school record for most total yards of offense in a season with their performance.

Marsh and Ratzlaff each finished with 110 yards receiving, enabling Marsh to break the school record for most all-purpose yardage in a season.

Defensively, Jake Schenk had a huge day, recording 14 unassisted tackles and adding four assists.

With the loss, Southwestern dropped to 4-5 overall and 4-4 in the KCAC.

Coming-Tabor will hit the road for their regular-season finale against the high-scoring McPherson Bulldogs.

The Bulldogs average just over 30 points per contest and will come in with a record of 6-3 overall.

“We’ll have to have a great defensive game,” McCarty said. “They have a great back in Lamar Jacobs (163 yards per game).

“It’ll be a big game,” he added. “It’s got playoff implications for us.”

Game time is set for 1:30 p.m. at refurbished McPherson Stadium.

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