ASHLAND — It was supposed to be a strength versus strength matchup, pitting the nation's most prolific passer against one of its stingiest defenses.
Tell that to Montana Tech. And Dickinson State. And Sacramento State.
These days, it doesn't seem to matter who Southern Oregon University lines up against because eventually Austin Dodge will find a weakness — even if that weakness happens to be 50 yards downfield.
Dodge turned the nation's fifth-ranked pass defense into his own private shooting gallery Saturday, passing for 559 yards and a school-record eight touchdowns to lead Southern Oregon to a 59-32 Frontier Conference rout of Montana Tech in front of 3,455 delirious fans at Raider Stadium.
"We hit our stride against Sac State and we're just cruising along," Dodge said.
Southern Oregon's third win in a row pushed the Raiders back to .500 (3-3) for the first time this season and kept alive their hopes for a Frontier Conference repeat title and a second straight trip to the NAIA playoffs. SOU is 3-2 in the Frontier, one game behind first-place Rocky Mountain in the league standings.
Dodge, a 6-foot-3 junior, entered the game ranked first in the nation in passing yards and showed why from the get-go, passing for 350 yards and four scores in the first half to help the Raiders stake a 31-7 lead.
Montana Tech (1-4, 1-4 Frontier) didn't fold, scoring the first 17 points of the second half to get within 31-24 on Matt Berg's 33-yard field goal with 8:55 to go in the third. But that only set up Dodge's next highlight — a 49-yard bomb that hit Dylan Young on the numbers to push the lead back up to 14 points.
"The defense led it there," Dodge said of the key pass. "Obviously we work on progression reading here and the coaches did a great job with play-calling, the offensive line did a great job blocking and obviously the receivers made big plays today."
The Raiders weren't even close to being done. Dodge fired a dart over the middle to Ryan Retzlaff for a 20-yard TD seven minutes later, then chucked a 52-yard rocket to Matt Retzlaff with 6:20 to go in the game. Up 52-24, Dodge went out for one more offensive series and made it count when he found Ryan Retzlaff in the flat. The older Retzlaff brother — Ryan's a junior, Matt a redshirt freshman — cut inside and made a couple potential tacklers miss before propelling himself across the goal line.
The score allowed Dodge to break the school record for touchdown passes in a game, a mark he shared with current University of Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich. It was also Dodge's 25th touchdown in his last four games and 29th of the season.
"I might have got a little greedy," Dodge said of his last TD pass, flashing a smile, "but at the same time we got into the end zone."
Dodge spread the ball around to eight receivers, and three finished with at least 100 yards receiving. Ryan Retzlaff led the way with 13 catches for 199 yards and three touchdowns. Young had nine catches for 141 yards and one score and Matt Retzlaff six catches for 153 yards and three TDs.
And all that against a defense that had held opponents to 140 passing yards a game — that is, until Saturday.
"We did a great job in the first half preventing those (deep balls), but then they got a couple going in the second half and it snowballed," Montana Tech coach Chuck Morell said. "But so many superlatives toward Austin Dodge. In my 15 years of coaching at this level he's the best kid I've ever seen. He's outstanding. He doesn't make very many mistakes, he puts the ball on the money and the rest of his offense helps him out quite a bit."
Dodge's explosion helped the Raiders survive an uncharacteristically one-dimensional performance by its offense. The Raiders were held to 66 yards rushing on 28 carries.
"The way (the Orediggers) line up, it's really difficult to run on them," SOU head coach Craig Howard said. "They were fourth in the nation in pass defense but I felt we could throw, and putting the ball in Austin Dodge's hands works."
For Montana Tech, Tyler Rowe carried the ball 14 times for 127 yards, while Pat Hansen, who torched the Raiders in three previous head-to-head matchups, was limited to 37 yards on 10 carries.
In catchup mode most of the day, Montana Tech quarterback Herman Tapley completed 37 of 69 passes for 383 yards and three touchdowns. His favorite target, Zack Kinney, had 11 catches for 192 yards and a score.
Southern Oregon scored 17 points in the first quarter and 14 points in the second to threaten to blow the Orediggers out before the break. Dodge's 5-yard touchdown pass to CJ Wiley capped a 75-yard drive and put SOU ahead 6-0 less than four minutes into the game.
The Raiders stalled on their next possession, but a 5-yard offsides penalty against Montana Tech moved SOU up to the Orediggers' 30, prompting SOU's coaching staff to call back the punt team and send out freshman Aldrick Rosas for a 47-yard field goal attempt. Rosas' wonky-looking boot cleared the upright by about a foot to draw one of the loudest ovations of the day and give the Raiders a 10-0 lead (Rosas tried to make another long field goal in the second quarter, but the 48-yard attempt was wide right).
The Raiders didn't settle on their next possession, as Dodge rolled out to his right and found Matt Retzlaff open for a quick 16-0 lead.
Dodge added two more scoring strikes before halftime — a 36-yard bullet to Ryan Retzlaff early in the second, and a 41-yarder to Matt Retzlaff with 8:27 to go. The pass to Matt Retzlaff was a thing of beauty, and a backbreaker for the Orediggers on fourth down and 4 yards to go. Dodge placed it perfectly over Retzlaff's outside shoulder and just out of the reach of the defender 25 yards downfield, and Retzlaff raced the rest of the way to bring the crowd to its feet.
"That is a cannon," Ryan Retzlaff said of Dodge. "He has a one-of-a-kind arm. I'm just really happy and really excited for our team."
So. Oregon 59, Montana Tech 32
At Raider Stadium
Montana Tech 7 0 17 8 —32
Southern Oregon 17 14 14 14 —59
SOU — CJ Wiley 5 pass from Dodge (Rosas kick)
SOU — FG Rosas 47
SOU — M. Retzlaff 14 pass from Dodge (Rosas kick)
MT — Bray 27 pass from Tapley (Berg kick)
SOU — R. Retzlaff 36 pass from Dodge (Rosas kick)
SOU — M. Retzlaff 41 pass from Dodge (Amsler kick)
MT — Saraceni 13 run (Berg kick)
MT — Kinney 50 pass from Tapley (Berg kick)
MT — FG Berg 33
SOU — Young 49 pass from Dodge (Rosas kick)
SOU — R. Retzlaff 21 pass from Dodge (Amsler kick)
SOU — M. Retzlaff 52 pass from Dodge (Amsler kick)
SOU — R. Retzlaff 8 pass from Dodge (Rosas kick)
MT — Roberts 16 pass from Tapley (Bray pass from Tapley)
First Downs 27 30
Rushes-Yards 28-165 28-66
Passing Yards 383 559
Comp-Att-Int 37-69-0 39-58-0
Total Yards 548 625
Punts 7-38.3 4-34.5
Fumbles-lost 2-0 3-1
Penalties-yards 8-77 8-103
Montana Tech — Rowe 14-124, Hansen 10-35, Saraceni 2-10, Tapley 2-(-4).
Southern Oregon — Tow 9-32, Amsler 1-16, Mason 9-15, Carlson 2-5, Marshall 3-3, Dodge 4-(-5).
Montana Tech — Tapley 37-69-0 383.
Southern Oregon — Dodge 39-57-0 559, Young 0-1-0 0.
Montana Tech — Kinney 11-192, Moss 6-48, Bray 4-61, Bunney 4-19, Cavender 4-11, Roberts 3-35, Lucero 3-13, Knatterud 1-3, Hansen 1-1.
Southern Oregon — R. Retzlaff 13-199, Young 9-141, M. Retzlaff 6-153, Mason 4-35, Scottow 2-17, Birks 2-7, Marshall 2-2, Wiley 1-5.