ASHLAND — Smashed together in a giant, shoulder pad-stuffed mosh pit, the Southern Oregon Raiders hopped up and down in sync while belting out their 2012 mantra for all to hear: "Who rocked the nation? We rocked the nation!"
And thanks to the most prolific offense in NAIA history, plus an almost flawless first half by the defense, they'll be rocking at least one more week.
RECAP: Sophomore Austin Dodge passes for 487 yards and five touchdowns, Manny Barragan has 267 yards rushing and receiving and the Raiders have four TDs of 60 or more yards as they claim a piece of the Frontier Conference title.
UP NEXT: Next Saturday, NAIA Football Championship Series, opponent to be announced today.
No. 12 Southern Oregon picked up its biggest win since it last made the playoffs a decade ago, walloping No. 7 Montana Tech 46-28 to earn a share of the Frontier Conference championship and a berth in the NAIA Football Championship Series, which kicks off next week.
The Raiders (8-2), who upped their winning streak to six games, will find out who they'll play and where later today when the 16-team bracket is released by the NAIA. The first-round playoff game will be SOU's first since 2002, and it comes 20 months after Howard was hired to take over a program that finished 3-7 in 2010.
"It was a little bit of relief and a great deal of satisfaction," Howard said. "The boys had worked so hard and come so far in two years. To dominate the way we did, they were champions."
"We're unstoppable at home, and even on the road now," said senior running back Manny Barragan, who accounted 267 yards of offense — 192 rushing and 75 receiving — and two touchdowns. "We have one goal and that's to win the national championship, and we're well on our way to doing it."
Southern Oregon's no-huddle spread offense again took center stage, scoring on four plays of 60 yards or more, including a 64-yard scoring strike from Austin Dodge to Justin Otaguro that gave the Raiders a 46-7 lead on the second play of the fourth quarter. They finished with 697 yards of total offense against a Montana Tech team that had not surrendered more than 20 points since it beat SOU 48-45 in double overtime on Sept. 29.
The Orediggers (8-2), who had won eight straight since a season-opening loss, scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to narrow the gap, but the late push only served to make the final score look more respectable. They were held to 127 yards in the first half — when the outcome was still in doubt — and didn't get on the board until Nick Baker threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to James Roberts with 8:10 to go in the third quarter.
Dodge, meanwhile, picked apart another secondary on his way to a 26-for-45, 486-yard passing day with five touchdowns and one interception. His top two receivers saw plenty of action. Patrick Donahue caught eight passes for 158 yards and one touchdown — a spectacular 60-yard catch-and-run off a screen pass — and Cole McKenzie caught seven passes for 142 yards and a score.
All in all, it was just another outstanding performance for a Southern Oregon offense that tore up the Frontier Conference all season. The Raiders smashed every major single season program record, both individual and team, while also obliterating national records for yards per game (657) and passing yards per game (463.4) and falling just short of the points-per-game mark after averaging 54.4.
And this for a team that was picked to finish fifth in the league's preseason poll. That prediction didn't look that far off after the Orediggers dropped the Raiders to 2-2 with that late-September shootout, but SOU has been rolling ever since, grabbing six straight lopsided wins.
"We knew it was going to be a journey to see how we were going to react (to losing to Montana Tech)," McKenzie said. "It's unbelievable that we went (6-0) after that. It's just awesome."
Southern Oregon drew first blood on Dodge's 4-yard touchdown pass to McKenzie with 4:22 to go in the first quarter and made it 13-0 on Mike Olson's 3-yard run early in the second. Barragan then brought the crowd to its feet when he took a handoff at about the SOU 28 and bolted up the middle before outrunning defensive backs Nathan Kobold and Nate Thompson on a 70-yard touchdown.
"I just trusted my speed," Barragan said. "I saw (Kobold and Thompson) closing down real quick, and I just trusted my speed — I knew I could split them and off I was."
Montana Tech's next drive was its most promising of the first half, but it ended in disaster when Baker's pass into the end zone on third-and-goal from the 13 was intercepted by linebacker Marquice O'Leary.
On the next play, Dodge completed a 20-yard pass to McKenzie. On the play after that, Dodge zipped an innocent looking screen to Donahue, who zigzagged around two defenders on his way to a 60-yard touchdown and a 27-0 SOU lead.
"When I looked up I saw two guys (blocking) two guys," Donahue said, "and I just took it up the seam and had to beat one guy to the end zone. It was an amazing feeling."
That sent the Raiders flying into halftime with a four-touchdown cushion, a surprising margin considering that the last two meetings between the two teams each required two overtimes. SOU's first-half domination was complete: The Raiders outgained the Orediggers 408 yards to 127, including 311 to 46 through the air, punted only once to MT's five and forced two turnovers.
"We just were motivated," said SOU linebacker Kalii Robinson, who had a team-high 12 tackles. "We were on a mission today. We had to protect our home field and we wanted to go to the playoffs. Today, we were on our assignments and we were on our keys."
Montana Tech running back Pat Hansen rushed for 162 yards and a touchdown, and Baker completed 29 of 55 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns.
"I'm really proud of how our guys came out and finished the game, but we need to be ready to go right out of the gate," Montana Tech head coach Chuck Morrell said. "Everybody who plays against a good team like that knows that you can't give them the one-play easy scores ... Today, three or four of their scores were one-play deals. You gotta make them grind and earn it. We obviously weren't successful in shutting down those one-play easy scores."
The Raiders added to their lead by scoring two more touchdowns in the third quarter, including a swing pass that Barragan turned into a 66-yard touchdown after busting free down the sideline.
Barragan finished the regular season with 1,046 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns.
"(Barragan) seems to be at his best when his best is needed," Howard said, "and it was needed today."
S. Oregon 46, Montana Tech 28
At Raider Stadium
Montana Tech 0 0 7 21 —28
Southern Oregon 6 21 13 6 —46
SOU — McKenzie 4 pass from Dodge (kick blocked)
SOU — Olson 3 run (Amsler kick)
SOU — Barragan 70 run (Amsler kick)
SOU — Donahue 60 pass from Dodge (Amsler kick)
SOU — Olson 10 pass from Dodge (Amsler kick)
MT — Roberts 4 pass from Baker (Berg kick)
SOU — Barragan 66 pass from Dodge (pass failed)
SOU — Otaguro 64 pass from Dodge (Amsler kick)
MT — Thomas 20 pass from Baker (Hansen run)
MT — Hansen 3 run (pass failed)
MT — Bray 11 pass from Baker (Berg kick)
First Downs 24 22
Rushes-Yards 46-145 32-211
Passing Yards 260 486
Comp-Att-Int 29-55-1 26-46-1
Total Yards 405 697
Punts 9-42.8 4-27.5
Fumbles-lost 3-1 1-0
Penalties-yards 7-45 5-42
Montana Tech — Hansen 31-162, Roberts 1-7, Kinney 1-3, Rowe 1-1, Bray 1-1, Baker 11-(-29).
Southern Oregon — Barragan 19-192, Olson 8-15, Marshall 3-6, team 2-(-2).
Montana Tech — Baker 29-55-1 260.
Southern Oregon — Dodge 26-45-1 486, Kammel 0-1-0 0.
Montana Tech — Thomas 10-102, Halko 4-33, Moss 4-26, Kinney 3-54, Roberts 3-28, Hansen 3-0, Bray 1-11, Crawford 1-6.
Southern Oregon — Donahue 8-158, McKenzie 7-142, Otaguro 5-92, Barragan 3-75, Olson 2-10, Retzlaff 1-9.
Joe Zavala is sports editor of the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-776-4469, or email email@example.com