Southern Oregon introduced itself to the Frontier Conference then quickly made itself at home Saturday, charging up and down the field with ease in an impressive display of offensive firepower that may make the rest of the league take notice.
Playing their first game as newly-minted members of the Frontier, the Raiders amassed 585 yards of offense and scored 35 points in a jailbreak second half to bury visiting Montana-Western 54-21 at Spiegelberg Stadium.
The Raiders put on a show that had a little bit of everything: two long bombs from quarterback Austin Dodge of 45 yards or more; a 61-yard icing-on-the-cake rushing touchdown from Zach Marshall; a juke-and-dash 69-yard punt return for a score by Mike Olson; and a 15-yard interception return for another score by RaSjeon Hines that helped turn the tide when the outcome was still in doubt.
"We got what we wanted," SOU head coach Craig Howard said of the Ashland-based Raiders' rare home game in Medford. "It was a good crowd, and they saw some great football."
Dodge shook off a slightly off first quarter to finish 26-for-39 for 347 yards passing and two touchdowns without an interception. The redshirt sophomore, already making his eighth start for SOU, was in total command of the offense, especially when it came to the deep ball. He led the Raiders on three drives of 75 yards or more, including a 99-yard march that he capped early in the fourth quarter by hitting Cole McKenzie in stride for a 48-yard strike.
McKenzie had nine catches for 153 yards, Patrick Donahue six catches for 83 yards and Olson three catches for 75 yards, plus the punt return TD that gave the Raiders a 39-14 lead midway through the third quarter.
"With weapons outside like Cole McKenzie and Pat Donahue and inside with Justin Otaguro and Mike Olson, all of them can make plays," Dodge said. "They're big playmakers and as long as we feed them the ball good things will happen."
For the Bulldogs, Tyrell Braun rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns and starting quarterback Jeff Logan completed 14 of 21 passes for 163 yards and a score before leaving the game late in the second quarter with a separated throwing shoulder. The play on which Logan was injured proved to be the beginning of the end for Montana-Western, which was picked to finish last in the Frontier's preseason coaches poll. The senior quarterback tried to dive into the end zone at the end of an 8-yard scramble up the middle but was stuffed at the 1 by Heston Altenbach and Monti Wilson.
The Bulldogs were able to call a timeout with eight-tenths of a second left on the clock as Logan hobbled off and elected to try to punch the ball in, but the gamble backfired when Junior Mataafa was tackled behind the line of scrimmage.
The Raiders then scored three touchdowns in the first eight minutes of the third quarter to put the game away.
"Not at all," said Montana-Western head coach Ryan Nourse, when asked if there was any hesitation to go for the score rather than try for a field goal at the end of the first half. "We're building a new program here. We took over a program that lacked success and we're going to be tough, we're going to be physical and we're going to run the same play down there until we score on it. And that's really the point — if you're a good football team, you score on the 1."
The third quarter belonged to Southern Oregon. After forcing a Bulldogs punt, the Raiders took over at their own 16 nursing a 19-14 lead and quickly marched down the field, driving 84 yards in 19 plays. The drive included a 23-yard run by Manny Barragan, an offsides penalty against the Bulldogs on fourth-and-four and a spectacular capper — a 25-yard touchdown strike from Dodge to Olson in which Olson caught the ball at the 10 then plowed over the goal line with a last-second reach.
Moments later, Bulldogs backup quarterback Kenney Bradley, a freshman, threw a pass to the sideline that was easily picked off by Wilson at the Montana-Western 35 and returned 26 yards to the UMW 9. Two plays later, Olson bulled his way into the end zone from the 2 to give SOU a 32-14 lead.
Bradley mostly struggled in emergency backup duty, completing 10 of 23 passes for 128 yards and two interceptions.
The Raiders forced a three-and-out by Montana-Western on its next possession, leading to Olson's electrifying punt return. The 5-foot-8, 180-pound pinball caught the ball at the SOU 31, faked out two would-be tacklers then raced down the sideline untouched to make it 39-14.
"I just caught the ball and I saw a line guy miss and I had all my blockers coming down the field for me so I just read their blocks and went up the sideline," he said. "It felt great. It was the first punt return touchdown in a few years, and it was good to get the momentum going our way in the second half to swing the whole thing our way."
Hines had a similarly big play for the Southern Oregon defense in the first half when he stepped in front of Logan's pass over the middle, made a fingertip grab then rumbled into the end zone, going head over heals for the score.
At the time, Montana-Western was nursing a 7-6 lead and had amassed 124 yards of offense in the first quarter.
"I saw the pass and I just did my best to try and cut it off," Hines said. "I didn't know if I had enough oomph in this old knee (to score). I used to play wide receiver and was a utility player in high school, so it was like old times."
At Spiegelberg Stadium
Montana-Western 7 7 7 0 —21
Southern Oregon 6 13 21 14 —54
UMW — Pastras 11 pass from Logan (Crossley kick)
SOU — Barragan 4 run (pass failed)
SOU — Hines 15 interception return (Amsler kick)
UMW — Braun 2 run (Crossley kick)
SOU — Barragan 1 run (kick blocked)
SOU — Olson 25 pass from Dodge (Amsler kick)
SOU — Olson 2 run (Amsler kick)
SOU — Olson 69 punt return (Amsler kick)
UMW — Braun 13 run (Crossley kick)
SOU — McKenzie 48 pass from Dodge (Amsler kick)
SOU — Marshall 61 run (Amsler kick)
First Downs 25 25
Rushes-Yards 40-151 43-229
Passing Yards 291 356
Comp-Att-Int 24-44-3 28-42-0
Total Yards 442 585
Punts 9-39 4-40.5
Fumbles-lost 1-0 1-1
Penalties-yards 7-61 6-53
Montana-Western — Braun 19-108, Logan 5-25, Kramer 10-14, Lake 2-4, Lickfold 1-4, Mataafa 1-(minus 3).
Southern Oregon — Marshall 7-84, Barragan 19-79, Olson 6-24, Dodge 4-19, Kammel 2-7, Donahue 2-14, Carlson 1-4.
Montana-Western — Bradley 10-23-2 128, Logan 14-21-1 163.
Southern Oregon — Dodge 26-39-0 347, Kammel 2-3-0 9.
Montana-Western — Peniston 6-59, Pastras 6-54, Lickfold 5-80, Mataafa 2-9, Perbera 1-20, Braun 1-25, Rohrich 1-2, Hoohuli 1-21, Golden 1-21.
Southern Oregon — McKenzie 9-153, Donahue 6-83, Olson 3-75, Sierra 3-17, Barragan 3-8, Retzlaff 1-10, Marshall 3-10.