Derek Washington breaks through an arm tackle one play before crashing into the end zone with the first of his two touchdowns.
The Tabor College football team played its best game but suffered its ninth loss of the season, 23-20, Saturday at Southwestern.
The Bluejays struggled to run the ball from 20 to 20, but scored two rushing touchdowns. They completed less than half their pass attempts and had a field goal blocked, but took a 20-16 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter.
And they came out ahead on turnovers?or, at least, should have. Southwestern fumbled four times officially and put the ball on the ground with bad snaps throughout the game, but on what proved to be the pivotal play, the Moundbuilders benefited from generous officiating.
Barely a minute after the Bluejays pulled ahead on Derek Washington's 2-yard touchdown run, Southwestern took in stride a botched snap while handing off to Lance Evans, who was blasted by Charles Urrutia almost at the moment of the exchange and was wrapped up by Joaquim Haywood.
Evans fumbled, and was taken to the ground by Urrutia and Haywood; the ball wound up in the hands of Chris Sanborn, whose nose for the ball has put him within an arm's reach of almost every big play the Bluejays defense has made this year. Sanborn sprinted to the end zone, apparently having scored a decisive touchdown; it was called back, the first whistle having blown the moment Evans's progress was stopped?barely a millisecond after the first collision.
Tabor coach Mike Gottsch made no secret of his outrage over what he saw, rightly, as an egregious error, and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Second-and-18 became second-and-3.
Southwestern scored the winning touchdown nine plays later, on a 9-yard pass from Jordan Barrett to Joey Pataki with 10:26 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Bluejays had overcome a 9-0 Moundbuilders lead, scoring on two 2-yard runs by Washington and a pass from Joey Erickson to Chris Roddy. Combined with a kick by Stephen Gulledge, Roddy's touchdown chopped a 16-7 deficit down to 16-14?the same difference by which Tabor trailed after its first series ended in a safety. The safety followed a 10-yard sack of Marc Amos, from the Bluejays 13 to their own 3-yard line. After Southwestern scored to make good on the advantage of strong field position afforded by the post-safety free kick, Erickson engineered an 11-play scoring drive to close the gap to 9-7.
The Moundbuilders came within an eyelash of catastrophe on their subsequent possession, which ended with punter Matt Tria chasing an overthrown snap into his own end zone and popping a low line drive far enough that, with an extraordinary bounce, the Bluejays offense was backed up to midfield. Tabor followed up with its only turnover?an interception of a deflected pass attempt.
The Moundbuilders parlayed the good luck into their second touchdown; Evans blasted in a 1-yard run on the fourth play of the second quarter.
The teams exchanged three-and-outs, with Tabor coming out well ahead on field position thanks to a sack of Barrett by Sanborn at the Southwestern 9. Tabor then marched from its own 43 to the Southwestern 11 on the strength of two runs by Erickson: a 26-yarder that advanced from midfield to just outside the red zone, and a 5-yarder on fourth-and-4 from the 16. Then Erickson threaded a pass to Roddy, who eluded his mark along the end zone's back line and laid out to catch an 11-yard touchdown that covered perhaps 25 yards in the air. Gulledge's kick made it a two-point game.
When the Moundbuilders punted following a possession that gained five yards on three plays, Roddy broke a 41-yard return; it was called back on an illegal block penalty, costing the Bluejays 52 yards. Tabor was flagged for a total of 70 yards worth of penalties Saturday.
With the wind at the Bluejays' backs, their ensuing drive stalled at the Southwestern 40, leaving a 57-yard field goal attempt for Gulledge, which was blocked. Gulledge hit a 50-yarder last week, and demonstrated range up to and including 55 yards in the same direction during halftime.
After the blocked kick, a Tabor player was assessed a personal foul for removing his helmet?a mistake that put the Moundbuilders at the Bluejays 38 on first down. But the Builders could not crack Tabor's defense, gaining just three yards on four plays. Tabor's final possession of the first half ended with a 16-yard run by Zeb Petty?the afternoon's longest run by a Tabor running back.
Despite everything that went wrong Saturday, the Bluejays played their hearts out through the final horn.
Tabor College quarterback Joey Erickson sprints down the sidelines with one of the longest runs the Bluejays broke in Winfield.
Facing first-and-10 at his own 14 with 20 seconds to go, Erickson found Roddy with a short throw toward the home sideline.
Roddy blistered past the corner and, seeing the Moundbuilders closing in from behind, veered into the middle of the field.
Cutting past the hash marks, he collided squarely and unexpectedly with Adrian Clay?a would-be blocker, but also a sudden example of just how bad Tabor's luck was in Winfield.
Roddy totaled 113 yards on six catches.
Coming?Tabor (0-9) travels to Leavenworth, where they will seek a change of fortune against the Saint Mary Spires (2-7) at 1:30 p.m. next Saturday.