ASHLAND — Austin Dodge raised his arms, then was lifted into the air by offensive linemen Drew Gibson and Max Proudfit. They were celebrating the junior quarterback's 100th touchdown pass as a Raider, a 13-yard throw to Matt Retzlaff that also happened to give Southern Oregon a 12-7 lead.
Three hours later, it was a far different scene at Raider Stadium — quiet, somber. And Dodge took a knee on the field, alone.
RECAP: Eastern Oregon storms back from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter, then recovers an SOU fumble deep in Mountaineers territory to seal the win.
up next: Saturday, Southern Oregon at Montana Tech.
In a nightmare finish to the Raiders' 2013 home schedule, Eastern Oregon rallied back from a 13-point deficit in the last six minutes to hand 25th-ranked SOU its second straight loss, 38-37 on senior day.
The stunning comeback, which included five Raider turnovers and a failed fourth-and-1 attempt by SOU with 3:37 to go, was painful on multiple levels for the Raiders, who saw their slim hopes for both a Frontier Conference championship and an NAIA playoff berth go up in flames against a team they beat by 53 points seven weeks ago.
"It hurts at the end of the game when you have a lot of turnovers like that," said SOU running back Melvin Mason, who ran 18 times for 86 yards and a touchdown. "We played great as a team but the turnovers killed us. Like our coach tells us, Southern beat Southern. We beat ourself."
Equally painful for Southern Oregon (6-4, 6-3 Frontier) was the way the game ended. After watching Eastern Oregon (5-5, 5-4) score the go-ahead touchdown on a receiver option pass with 1:53 to go, the Raiders marched right down the field and, after four plays and an EOU late hit penalty, had a first-and-10 at the Eastern 19 with 49 seconds to go. As SOU kicker Aldrick Rosas, who entered the game 3-for-4 on field goals of 30 yards or more, took practice kicks on the sideline the Raiders seemed to be only moments away from a chip-shot field goal that would save the day.
Dodge fired a strike to Jeremy Scottow near the right sideline at the 5, and as the sophomore from North Medford High cut toward the middle of the field for what looked like an easy touchdown Eastern defensive back Adam Bese poked the ball out of Scottow's grasp. The ball flew high into the air before hitting the turf and was quickly scooped up by Eastern linebacker Tucker Stanley.
The Mountaineers took over at the 15 with 38 seconds to go and two kneel-downs later were celebrating their first win at Raider Stadium since 2006.
"We were in field goal range and had it, just thought we'd take one more shot," said SOU head coach Craig Howard, who suffered his first loss in Ashland after 11 straight home wins dating back to 2011. "It's just one of those plays that happen in football. You can't be mad at a kid who's trying to score."
Bese's big strip came three plays after his late hit on SOU receiver Dylan Young gave the Raiders a first-and-10 at the EOU 35 with 1:33 left.
"He made up for (the penalty), and it was a good thing he did," Eastern Oregon head coach Tim Camp said. "It was kind of a bang-bang play, but at the same time it was a clutch play because that's a very good offense no matter what level you're at."
The fumble, SOU's second of the game, was only the last in a laundry list of critical mistakes by the Raiders. Some others:
"The turnover bug has caught us now and we gotta get rid of it and solve it because you don't win with turnovers," Howard said. "Especially when you're in the red zone. If those are touchdowns instead of turnovers then you win the game decisively."
The heartbreaking setback came a week after the Raiders fell to fifth-ranked Carroll College in similar fashion, turning the ball over five times to fall 48-30. Adding insult to injury, SOU's playoff hopes were dealt another blow even before Eastern stormed back as Carroll kicked a last-second field goal to beat seventh-ranked Rocky Mountain, 37-35. That win for the Fighting Saints clinched their 14th Frontier Conference championship in the last 15 seasons.
SOU needed a win and a Carroll loss to have any hope of earning a second straight co-league championship.
"You have to put it aside," Mason said. "You just gotta get ready to come out and work next week for Montana Tech. So we just gotta work all week."
When he wasn't getting picked off Dodge found plenty of open receivers against an Eastern secondary that surrendered six touchdown passes in the last meeting between the two teams. This time, Dodge finished with only the milestone TD pass, his 45th of the season, but he also completed 29 of 42 passes for 355 yards.
Young led the Raider receiving corps with 11 catches for 154 yards, Scottow had seven catches for 84 yards and Sean Tow rushed for 125 yards and three touchdowns.
Blackman completed 25 of 42 passes for 336 yards and three touchdowns, the last coming four plays after he had to be helped off the field with an apparent right leg injury. He also rushed for 65 yards. Forty-five of those came on a spectacular scramble that ended with a fumble into the end zone which the Raiders recovered.
Also for Eastern, Jace Billingsley had 13 catches for 161 yards and a touchdown, Justin Hernandez had six catches for 105 yards and a touchdown and running back Chris McGinnis-Parker rushed 19 times for 103 yards.
The teams combined for 1,151 yards of offense — 593 for the Raiders and 558 for the Mounties.
The Raiders will try to avoid their first three-game losing streak since 2011 next week at Montana Tech.
"We just can't make those critical mistakes," Howard said. "I hate it for our seniors. There's only nine of them, so we don't lose a lot — we've got a lot coming back. The key is that we continue to love one another and continue to coach hard, finish the season strong with a win at Montana Tech. I hate for our (Raider Stadium) streak to come to an end, but it did. Now we have to start a new one."
Eastern Oregon 38 ,Southern Oregon 37
At Raider Stadium
Eastern Oregon 7 3 14 14 —38
Southern Oregon 13 10 7 7 —37
SOU — Tow 4 run (pass failed)
EOU — McGinnis-Park 24 pass from Blackman (David kick)
SOU — M. Retzlaff 13 pass from Dodge (Rosas kick)
SOU — FG Rosas 26
EOU — FG David 26
SOU — Tow 13 run (Rosas kick)
EOU — Esekielu 5 run (David kick)
SOU — Tow 9 run (Rosas kick)
EOU — Billingsley 48 pass from Blackman (David kick)
SOU — Mason 1 run (Amsler kick)
EOU — Miles 29 pass from Blackman (David kick)
EOU — Hernandez 26 pass from Billingsley (Blakely kick)
First Downs 26 33
Rushes-Yards 35-196 42-238
Passing Yards 362 355
Comp-Att-Int 26-43-1 29-42-3
Total Yards 558 593
Punts 5-36.4 3-43.3
Fumbles-lost 2-2 2-2
Penalties-yards 6-54 7-52
Eastern Oregon — McGinnis-Park 19-103, Blackman 12-65, Bostrom 2-21, Esekielu 2-7.
Southern Oregon — Tow 17-125, Mason 18-86, Dodge 6-24, Marshall 1-3.
Eastern Oregon — Blackman 25-42-1 336, Billingsley 1-1-0 26.
Southern Oregon — Dodge 29-42-3 355.
Eastern Oregon — Billingsley 13-161, Hernandez 6-105, McGinnis-Park 5-57, Miles 1-29, Ortiz 1-10.
Southern Oregon — Young 11-154, Scottow 7-154, R. Retzlaff 4-33, M. Retzlaff 3-32, Mason 2-26, Birks 1-19, Tow 1-7.