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Willamette spoils Raiders' homecoming

ASHLAND -- Willamette quarterback Bucky Rivera came off the bench to pass for three touchdowns, including an 11-yarder to Steve Nass with 55 seconds to play Saturday at Raider Stadium to give the Bearcats a 21-18 victory over Southern Oregon.

The Raiders (3-4) led 21-14 before Rivera engineered a 15-play, 99-yard drive that included two fourth-down conversions and spoiled Southern Oregon's 61st Homecoming before 2,500 fans.

Ashland High grad Tim Blair set up the winning score when he snagged a partially-deflected fourth-and-13 pass from Rivera for a 19-yard pickup to the SOU 30 with 1:20 to play.

Two plays later, Rivera hooked up with Nass for the clinching TD. It was the fifth catch of the day for Nass, who earlier caught a 41 yarder.

Rivera replaced Luke Atwood in the second quarter and finished the game 14-of-24 passing for 241 yards and no interceptions.

Willamette (5-2) took a 14-0 lead in the second quarter when Rivera threw a 23-yard TD pass to Brett Schoepper and followed with 16-yarder to Blair, who caught four passes for 85 yards.

Southern Oregon responded to the second TD pass with a bang as Casey Jackson rambled 87 yards with the ensuing kickoff. The Raiders trimmed the deficit to 14-7 at the half on Jason McGregor's PAT kick.

Willamette fumbled the second-half kickoff and the Raiders capitalized on McGregor's 23-yard field goal to draw within 14-10.

All-American tailback Griff Yates, who rushed for 110 yards on 27 carries, gave Southern Oregon a 16-14 lead with 12:39 to play. Willamette again had trouble retrieving a kickoff and started the next series on its own 4. That led to R.J. Josephson tackling Rivera in the end zone for a safety and an 18-14 advantage with 11:38 to play.

Southern Oregon couldn't do anything with the free kick, but had another chance when Greg Hobson recovered a blocked punt at the Willamette 26. But the Bearcats held and the Raiders punted to the WU — to set up the winning drive.

Willamette outgained the Raiders 323-180 in total offense and limited the tandem of Yates and Jackson to 126 yards. SOU receiver Mike Long caught a career-high six passes for 54 yards.