When fifth-ranked Southern Oregon takes the field Saturday against No. 4 Lindsey Wilson in the NAIA Football Championship Series quarterfinals at Blue Raider Stadium in Columbia, Ky., the Raiders will in many ways face a team that is a mirror image.
Both schools feature wide open offenses with experienced quarterbacks. Both schools have veteran rosters. And both schools recently have been postseason participants.
Lindsey Wilson (11-0) makes its third quarterfinal appearance — never advancing any further — in the last four years. Southern Oregon (11-0) has reached the quarters for the fourth time in six seasons — winning the championship in 2014.
It’s the only quarterfinal matchup featuring two unbeaten teams and the first meeting between the two programs.
But it’s Southern Oregon all-Frontier Conference first-team linebacker Isiah Carter who could be the difference maker.
Carter, a four-year starter, is the unquestioned leader of a defensive unit that is No. 1 in the NAIA in quarterback sacks (48) and for the first time since 1982 has held every opponent under 30 points.
“(Carter) plays with passion,” says Southern Oregon first-year coach Charlie Hall. “He leads by example and effort. He’s grown up in the program. When he talks, everyone in the room listens.”
Carter has made 71 tackles this season and is fifth in school history with 308. Carter has registered 10 tackles for loss and has 8.5 sacks on the season.
“He’s unique,” says Hall. “He has the savvy and timing when to pull the trigger and go. He’s very physical and uses his athletic ability to make plays.”
Carter, a 21-year-old from Las Vegas, says the untimely death of former SOU coach Craig Howard has motivated the squad under Hall, who previously coached 12 years at Ashland High.
“We all decided to be fully bought in and dedicated the season to coach Howard and play in his memory,” says Carter. “The transition was seamless. Coach Hall didn’t come in right away trying to change things. He understood the traditions from the past and added his own flavor.”
Carter thinks his success has come from hard work and good football instincts.
“Being a senior, I don’t make the same mistake twice,” says Carter. “I study players and know their tendencies. I understand the game of football.”
While Carter provides a solid foundation for the SOU defense, quarterback Tanner Trosin is the spark plug for the offense.
“We’re going to vertically stretch the defense,” says Hall. “We have a kid (Trosin) that can throw the ball a good ways and have kids that can go deep and go up and get it. We’re going to make you defend the entire field.”
Trosin, a senior from Folsom, California, leads an offense that averages 37.4 points and 487 yards a game. Trosin has passed for 26 touchdowns and run for seven more.
“He can extend the play with his legs whether scrambling behind the line of scrimmage, or he can take off if guys are out in coverage,” says Lindsey Wilson coach Chris Oliver.
Oliver, in his eighth year as coach, has guided Lindsey Wilson to its first perfect regular season. Oliver, 36, has been the only coach since Lindsey Wilson began the program in 2010. This season he was selected Mid-South Conference coach of the year for the second time.
“What sticks out is their athletic ability,” says Oliver. “Their quarterback is extremely accurate and throws a good deep ball. What they really want to do is throw deep. They’re probably the best go-route team I’ve seen in a long time.”
The Blue Raiders offense features fifth-year senior quarterback Dylan Beasley, the Mid-South Conference Bluegrass Division offensive player of the year. Beasley, a three-year starter, has passed for 2,616 yards, with 33 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
“He’s the type of guy you want as your quarterback as far as intangibles,” says Oliver. “He’s a very tough kid and a good decision maker. He does a good job of getting us out of bad situations.”
Beasley will line up in the shotgun in the Blue Raider pro-style offense. The Blue Raiders try to use the passing game to set up the rushing attack.
Oliver is concerned about the Southern Oregon pass rush: “They are so good getting to the quarterback. Our offensive line will be challenged when we’re in pass protection.”
Blake Ingleton is the Blue Raiders’ leading rusher with 995 yards on 149 carries.
“Ingleton is a special player,” says Oliver. “At 215 pounds, he’s explosive and tough to tackle one-on-one. He’s a big play waiting to happen.”
Lindsey Wilson has a talented stable of pass catchers led by Charles Gaines, who has 37 receptions for 511 yards and six touchdowns.
“Our wide receivers remind me of Southern Oregon,” says Oliver. “We both have a deep, talented wide receiver corps. We have a couple of guys who can stretch the field.”
Inside linebacker Trent Mueller provides the Blue Raider defense with knowledge and guile. The junior captain was involved in 112 tackles this season and selected the conference defensive player of the year.
“Trent is a guy who is great in our system,” says Oliver. “He’s not the fastest but is really smart and studies the other team’s offense.
“We have a number of kids who are overachievers,” adds Oliver. “We rarely win the pregame warmups. But our kids play hard and smart.”
Hall acknowledges the spirit of Craig Howard is a presence that has made this a special season for Southern Oregon. But Hall has some real concerns about his opponent.
“The speed on the field in their skill positions is unmatched in our conference,” says Hall. “Also they’re huge up front and super huge on the offensive line.”
Regardless, Lindsey Wilson will not force Hall to alter his philosophy.
“We’re not going to change our identity,” says Hall. “We’re going to do the same things — just better. When you get into these games where everybody is evenly matched, the team that makes the fewest mistakes will probably move on. It comes down to who can make the plays in critical situations when the game is on the line.”
Reach reporter Frank Silow at 776-4480 or firstname.lastname@example.org