SIOUX CITY, Iowa — A season highlighted by some of the most dramatic, unexpected highs in program history ended with a major low Saturday, as Southern Oregon suffered a 47-44 overtime loss to Morningside in an epic NAIA quarterfinal at Elwood Olsen Stadium.
Morningside quarterback Joel Nixon ran for 106 yards and completed 28 of 42 passes for 346 yards and four touchdowns, including a 4-yard laser to Joel McCabe in overtime that earned the third-ranked Mustangs a berth in next week's national semifinals.
No. 10 Southern Oregon (9-3) rallied from a 35-14 deficit to take a 38-35 lead on a Colin Amsler field goal early in the fourth quarter, but the Raiders had to settle for another Amsler field goal in overtime and couldn't stop the Mustangs on a third-and-goal from the SOU 4.
"We had the momentum," SOU head coach Craig Howard said. "When you come back from a big deficit and go ahead, often times (you win). I thought we had them, but they've got a great program, too.
"Gosh, it was a heartbreaking loss, but it was a storybook season."
Southern Oregon sophomore quarterback Austin Dodge picked apart the nation's top-ranked defense, completing 39 of 51 passes for 444 yards and three touchdowns, but he also threw two interceptions, including one that was returned 46 yards by Cole Boger for a touchdown.
SOU receiver Cole McKenzie had 19 catches for 265 yards and two touchdowns, including a 48-yard bomb that, after the PAT, tied the game at 35 with 1:01 to go in the third quarter. Following a Morningside punt, the Raiders marched down the field again, but this time couldn't capitalize on a first-and-goal from the 10 and had to settle for another Amsler field goal and a 38-35 lead.
The Mustangs (12-0) responded with an 11-play, 80-yard drive capped by Nixon's 8-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Schuck to retake the lead, 41-38, but David Galloway missed the extra point. Southern Oregon was in position to win the game in regulation after picking up a first-and-goal at the Morningside 7 with under two minutes to go, but Manny Barragan was stuffed at the 1 on third down and the Raiders had to settle for Amsler's 17-yard field goal.
"We went to the well with what got us here and they're the No. 1 defense in the country for a reason," Howard said. "We were very confident that we could score on that. We made the right call and just fell short. We were inches away."
In Kansas-plan overtime, the Raiders had the ball first from the Morningside 25 and managed to gain only five yards, with Dodge's third-and-5 pass sailing over McKenzie in the corner of the end zone. Amsler then hit his third field goal of the game, a clutch 37-yarder to give the Raiders a brief 44-41 lead.
That put the onus on Morningside's offense, and the Mustangs didn't flinch. On their first play, Nixon completed a 15-yard pass to McCabe for a first-and-goal from the 10, and three plays later Nixon hit McCabe in the end zone to drop the Raiders to 0-4 all time in quarterfinal games.
Schuck had nine catches for 154 yards and a touchdown for the Mustangs, and McCabe added 10 catches for 97 yards and a TD. Nixon was deadly when on the move, which helped the Mustangs convert 8 of 16 third downs.
"(Nixon) was excellent," Howard said. "He was such a great runner. If they weren't open, he ran the ball extremely well."
Barragan rushed for 103 yards and a score for SOU, which outgained Morningside 587 yards to 505 and had eight more first downs (31-23), but allowed the Mustangs to convert all four of their fourth-down gambles.
The Raiders cashed in on a few gambles of their own, most notably a crucial roll of the dice at the end of the first half. Facing a 35-14 deficit at the Morningside 3, the Raiders opted to go for a touchdown instead of taking the chip-shot field goal with two seconds left. The risky decision paid off when Dodge hit McKenzie in the back of the end zone as time expired, cutting the halftime deficit to a more manageable 14 points, 35-21.
"I felt we were so far behind that we needed something to happen right before the half to have some momentum," Howard said.
Southern Oregon kept chipping away at the lead in the third quarter. Kalii Robinson's interception in the end zone cut short what had been an impressive opening drive by Morningside, and the Raiders drove 70 yards in nine plays to make it one-possession game, 35-28.
Robinson is one of 13 seniors who played their final game for SOU, which suffered its first loss since Sept. 29.
"I think it was a great season and a memorable season," Howard said, "but our goal is to win the national title. So hopefully we're motivated to get back and get the job done next year. We want to play for this thing every year."
No. 3 Morningside 47,No. 10 Southern Oregon 44, OT
At Sioux City, Iowa
Southern Oregon 7 14 14 6 3 —44
Morningside 14 21 0 6 6 —47
M — Jones 5 run (Galloway kick)
M — Boger 46 interception return (Galloway kick)
SOU — Olson 2 run (Amsler kick)
M — Nixon 6 run (Galloway kick)
SOU — Donahue 12 pass from Dodge (Amsler kick)
M — Gaedke 19 pass from Nixon (Galloway kick)
M — Masterson 9 pass from Nixon (Galloway kick)
SOU — McKenzie 3 pass from Dodge (Amsler kick)
SOU — Barragan 1 run (Amsler kick)
SOU — McKenzie 48 pass from Dodge (Amsler kick)
SOU — FG Amsler 22
M — Schuck 8 pass from Nixon (kick failed)
SOU —FG Amsler 17
SOU — FG Amsler 37
M — McCabe 4 pass from Nixon
First Downs 31 23
Rushes-Yards 41-143 36-159
Passing Yards 444 346
Comp-Att-Int 39-51-2 28-42-1
Total Yards 587 505
Punts 2-40.5 3-33
Fumbles-lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-yards 3-35 3-15
Southern Oregon — Barragan 29-103, Olson 5-21, Marshall 4-20, Dodge 3-(-1).
Morningside — Nixon 20-106, Henderson 1-25, Jones 7-18, Halvorson 5-7, Gaedke 3-3.
Southern Oregon — Dodge 39-51-2 444.
Morningside — Nixon 28-42-1 346.
Southern Oregon — McKenzie 19-265, Donahue 11-96, Otaguro 4-60, Barragan 3-9, Sierra 2-14.
Morningside — McCabe 10-97, Schuck 9-154, Halvorson 4-36, Klett 2-25, Gaedke 1-19, Masterson 1-9, Henderson 1-6.