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Wildcats storm back and stun Raiders

With Linfield's Jake Capdeville in pursuit, Southern Oregon's Griff Yatessprints 73 yards for a touchdown.

ASHLAND -- A party atmosphere turned somber for Southern Oregon Universityfootball fans in a matter of minutes on Saturday night.

The Raiders scored two touchdowns in less than four minutes in the thirdperiod to take 14-3 lead over Linfield College at Raider Stadium in theseason-opening football game for both teams.

But the Raiders couldn't handle prosperity, or at least they couldn'thandle the tradition-rich Wildcats, who have thrived on winning big gamesin the final period during 42 consecutive winning seasons.

Linfield launched a successful beginning to what it hopes will be a 43rdconsecutive winning season by scoring two touchdowns in the final 15 minutesand 43 seconds to stun Southern Oregon, 15-14, before a crowd estimatedat 2,000.

We were ahead and in close games like this last year, saidSouthern Oregon coach Jeff Olson. We have to learn how to finish teamsoff.

We didn't do that tonight, but I'm still proud of these guys. Theyplayed hard for 60 minutes.

A blocked punt by Linfield junior Eldon Masaoka with 5:44 left in thefourth quarter and ensuing recovery for a touchdown by free safety MichaelPurdy turned the game and sent the Wildcats to their seventh straight winover Southern Oregon.

Masaoka said he stormed through Southern's offensive front without beingtouched and actually had to wait for Raider punter R.J. Josephson to kick.

I hit the ball with the back of my arm, said Masakoka, whoadmitted he was surprised because that Josephson set up to punt almost fiveyards in front of the back of the end zone. The ball was snapped to Josephsonfrom inside the SOU 1-yard line.

We had a punt-block on in the first half and we just missed it,said Masaoka. We knew we were close then.

With the game's outcome hanging in the balance, Masaoka said the Wildcatswere determined to block this punt, especially when they saw Josephson waslined up less than 10 yards from the snapper.

Purdy said three Wildcats broke through SOU's offensive front in timefor the block.

I got blocked but I saw the other guys get through and I saw Eldonblock it, said Purdy. I saw the ball rolling around in the endzone, and it was one Southern Oregon guy and myself battling for it. Hetried to take it away from me, but there was no way he was getting it.

Southern Oregon trailed 3-0 for almost two quarters after Andy Ward ofthe Wildcats kicked a 23-yard field goal.

The Raiders struggled to move the ball behind freshman quarterback DanWalters, who played the entire game. But suddenly, the SOU offense ignitedin the third quarter behind the running of tailback Griff Yates.

The sophomore from Coquille broke free off the left side of SouthernOregon's offensive line and ran 73 yards for a touchdown. John Colombero'sconversion kick gave the Raiders a 7-3 lead with 8:09 left in the thirdperiod.

The energized Raiders drove 40 yards in just three plays to score anothertouchdown the next time they gained possession of the ball. Yates rippedoff runs of 5 and 25 yards, and flanker Tommy Selden sprinted around rightend on a flanker reverse for a 9-yard touchdown run to give Southern Oregona 13-3 lead. Colombero's second successful conversion kick gave the Raidersa 14-3 lead with 4:39 left in the third period.

But the proud Wildcats had an answer. Higgins drove them 43 yards onjust three plays for their first touchdown of the game. Higgins ran 21 yardson an option play and completed a 23-yard pass to receiver Brad Linn tothe SOC 23-yard line.

On the next play, tailback Brandon Flood ran 14 yards off right tacklefor the touchdown to cut the Southern Oregon lead to 14-9.

Linfield regained the ball and drove from its own 13-yard line to theSOU 1, where the Raiders made a gallant defensive stand, stopping two Linfieldrunning plays from inside the 1.

On the final play, Josephson ran down Higgins from the backside of theplay and made the tackle just shy of the goal line.

It was the kind of play R.J. makes, even though he's just a 200-poundkid giving up all of that size, said Olson. He has a knack formaking big plays.

Unfortunately for Josephson, he was the victim of the blocked punt.

I don't know if R.J. somehow thought the ball was being snappedform the 10-yard line instead of the 1, or what happened, said Olson.It's too bad because he made a a great play right before that to keepthem out of the end zone.

Walters completed 12 of 26 passes for 109 yards. Walters had been scheduledto rotate with freshman Dan Woodward of Eagle Point, but Woodward didn'tplay.

I don't know the answer, said Olson. That's up to coachBill (SOU offensive coordinator Bill Singler).

Singler wasn't available for comment after the game.

Yates was the game's leading rusher with 158 yards on 21 carries. RyanMorgan of the Raiders caught five passes for 64 yards. Linn duplicated thosefigures for Linfield.

Southern Oregon finished with 306 total yards to 305 for Linfield.

Southern Oregon has a very good team, said Linfield coachJay Locey.

I'd like to think that our winning tradition had something to dowith us coming up the will to win.

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Wildcats storm back and stun Raiders