The Tabor College Bluejays, co-leaders in the KCAC and ranked 19th nationally, had its hands full for three quarters Saturday afternoon against a pesky McPherson College squad mired in ninth place.
Fortunately, the Bluejays played big in the fourth quarter, breaking a late tie with a 17-0 burst that carried the team to a 46-29 victory in McPherson.
The Bulldogs were first to put points on the board when quarterback Jake Tieman passed to Jackson Goodmiller for a 23-yard touchdown at the 9:53 mark of the opening quarter.
Trailing 7-0, the Bluejays responded like a potential conference champion should, marching 65 yards in 12 plays with Logan Vach penetrating the end zone from a yard away at 5:02. Austin Smith’s extra-point kick bounced off the left upright for a 7-6 deficit.
After the Bulldogs shanked a field goal attempt to end a five-play possession, the Bluejays asserted themselves again, flying 89 yards down the field in four plays with wide receiver Zach Johnson snatching quarterback Curry Parham’s throw for a 33-yard score. Smith’s successful kick put Tabor in front for the first time at 13-7 with 15 seconds left in the first quarter.
Smith added a 23-yard field goal at the 8:25 mark of the second quarter to bump the lead to 16-7.
Right when it seemed Tabor was gaining control of the contest, the Bulldogs’ Tyrone Campbell found the end zone on a 4-yard run, capping a four-play possession that covered 75 yards — including a 65-yard run up the middle by Campbell that moved the ball from the McPherson 29 to the Tabor 16.
With the score 16-14, Tabor traveled 73 yards on a six-play drive that finished in the end zone with a 25-yard catch-and-run from Parham to Austin Conway with 4:40 left in the first half. Oddly, Smith’s extra-point kick clanked off the right upright this time for a 22-14 Tabor lead .
After a McPherson three-and-out, Tabor covered 69 yards in only three plays. Johnson caught a Parham pass covering 31 yards just inside the end zone along the McPherson sideline for the score. Smith converted his kick for a 29-14 lead with 1:32 left in the half.
Another successful defensive stand gave Tabor possession again, this time at its own 45-yard line. After a first-play incompletion, Parham pitched the ball to Charles Beale, who threw a short pass upfield that was intercepted by McPherson and returned for a 40-yard pick-six with 31.5 seconds left in the half. Tieman ran untouched into the end zone for the 2-point conversion, which created a halftime score of 29-22 and some nervousness for Tabor fans about the outcome of this game.
The uneasiness only deepened when McPherson blocked Smith’s 35-yard field goal attempt and recovered the football at the Tabor 26-yard line. Seven plays later, Tieman connected with receiver Tyler Depperschmidt for a 39-yard score with 1:30 left in the third quarter, and tying the game at 29-29 following a successful extra-point kick.
By this point, fans of both teams were wondering how this shootout would ultimately play out.
Tabor went to work on both sides of the ball, taking possession at its 40-yard line. Four plays later, Parham launched a 51-yard pass that Tabor’s Treydonte Hill caught and ran it to the McPherson 1-yard line — just as time ran out in the third quarter.
Parham punched in the touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter to put Tabor in front, 36-29, after Smith’s kick.
When the Bluejays forced another McPherson three-and-out, Tabor set up shop at its 20-yard line. A 12-yard pass to Skylar Valencia followed 13-yarder to Johnson gave Tabor a first down at its 44. Two plays later, Parham connected again with Johnson for a scoring pass of 56 yards. Smith’s kick bumped Tabor’s lead to 43-29 with 11:48 left in the game.
After an exchange of possessions, Smith nailed the lid on the coffin with a 19-yard field goal, leaving McPherson facing a three-possession deficit with only 5:06 to play.
The win improves Tabor’s record to 8-1 in the KCAC and 8-2 overall. McPherson slipped to 2-7 and 3-6. Tabor will host fourth-place Bethany College next Saturday to complete the regular season.