Jays falter in 17-15 loss to Braves

D?Marco Smith gains two yards during Tabor?s first drive against Ottawa, which ended in a field goal for a 3-0 Bluejay lead. Smith led the Bluejay rushing attack with 19 carries for 91 yards and one touchdown. Over eight games this season, Smith carried the ball 92 times for 469 yards and five touchdowns.  Janae Rempel / Free PressAfter holding the advantage through three quarters of play, the No. 18 Tabor College football team saw a 15-8 lead turn into a 17-15 deficit to No. 14 Ottawa when the final whistle blew Saturday.

Tabor clung to a narrow, 9-8 lead at intermission, but scored three plays into the second half on a 50-yard touchdown run by quarterback Jessie Robbins. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but the Bluejays had extended their lead to 15-8.

With temperatures hovering just a few degrees above freezing, the Tabor offense turned as cool as the wintry weather, converting only one first down the duration of the game.

The Bluejay defense kept the Braves out of the end zone, though, and after two Ottawa punts, Jason Daughtry ended the Braves? third drive of the third quarter with an interception. The third period ended with Tabor leading by the same, 15-8, score.

The teams traded punts to start the fourth quarter, then Ottawa?s Dominic Sigala hit the first of three field goals. The 28-yard attempt sailed through the uprights, bringing the Braves within 15-11 with 8:20 left in the game.

Tabor went three-and-out and elected to attempt a fake punt, which did not gain enough yardage for a first down.

?We hadn’t picked up a first down in the fourth quarter,? coach Mike Gardner said of the decision to attempt the fake. ?We had two yards to go. I’d do it again if I could. The execution on it wasn’t the best, but it is what it is.

?We held them to a field goal out of that deal, and you have to make decisions sometimes that can blow up in your face.?

After the fake punt attempt, Ottawa took over at the Tabor 28-yard line.

The Bluejay defense gave up only four yards in three plays, but Sigala sent a 41-yard field goal try through the uprights on fourth down to close the gap to 15-14 with 4:57 to play.

With another Bluejay three-and-out, Ottawa got the ball back at the 3:14 mark. Aided by a Tabor personal foul penalty, the Braves covered 48 yards in eight plays and took a 17-15 lead on Sigala?s 42-yard field goal with just 1:05 left in the game.

With one final opportunity, Tabor lost four yards in four plays and turned the ball over, allowing Ottawa to run out the final seconds.

?You?ve got to hand it to Ottawa,? Gardner said. ?At the end, they just played really good defense, and we couldn’t get 10 yards.?

To start the game, Tabor took a 3-0 lead on its first possession thanks to a 29-yard field goal by Jared Slavens. That score held to the end of the first quarter, but it ended with Tabor on the move in Brave territory after a 20-yard Ottawa punt.

D?Marco Smith punched in a 14-yard score on the first play of the second quarter. Slavens? kick missed its mark, giving Tabor a 9-0 lead.

Ottawa got on the board with a safety with 4:27 left in the half after a snap sailed high over punter Trey Geiger?s head.

The Braves scored their only touchdown on their next drive, covering 47 yards in 10 plays and scoring on a 3-yard run by Tanner Staats. Daughtry blocked the extra-point kick to maintain the lead for Tabor at halftime, 9-8.

Tabor gained all but two of its 193 yards of total offense on the ground, led by D?Marco Smith with 19 carries for 91 yards and one touchdown. The Braves had 247 yards of total offense.

Ben Gardner led a stout Tabor defense with 17 tackles, a defense that Coach Gardner praised for its efforts all season.

?We played great defense the entire season,? he said. ?Our defense is a playoff-caliber defense. Our defense is awesome, and unfortunately we didn’t have the complete package to go with it, and the end result is seven wins.?

With the loss, Tabor concludes the season at 5-4 in the KCAC, 7-4 overall. The Bluejays are ranked 24th in the final Top 25 poll.

Ottawa, meanwhile, moved to No. 13 in the poll. As winners of the KCAC, the Braves have advanced to the NAIA Football Championship Series and will play at Morningside (Iowa) in the first round.

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