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Yates sets rushing record in 38-24 win

Photo by Drew Fleming

prolific runner in the Northwest

ASHLAND

-- Griff Yates' record-breaking run didn't turn any heads, but his next carry more than made up for it Saturday at Raider Stadium.

Needing 165 yards to become the Northwest small-college career rushing leader, Yates tiptoed for yards No. 164 and 165 with three minutes gone in the fourth quarter against Willamette.

The next time the senior tailback touched the ball, however, Yates broke a 24-all tie with six minutes to play on a vintage 9-yard scoring burst around the right corner.

Southern Oregon's defense took over from there, allowing no more first downs while intercepting two Bucky Rivera passes. The second interception was returned 25 yards for a touchdown by junior linebacker Nels Hage to secure a 38-24 victory.

Physically drained from a 43-carry, 180-yard rushing effort, Yates was a man of few words following his historic accomplishment.

I feel like an old man, Yates said on the sideline as the clock ran out.

Having already surpassed 22 various regional or school marks, Yates added the career rushing mark and single-game attempts total with Saturday's effort. His three touchdowns against Willamette leave Yates 17 points and three TDs shy of two other Northwest small-college career records.

Even more remarkable, Willamette (2-2) entered the game allowing only 26 rushing yards per game and 159 yards of total offense. Paced by Yates, Southern Oregon finished with 185 yards rushing and 298 yards of total offense.

Griff did what he's been doing for four years, SOU coach Jeff Olson said in summing up his tailback's effort. He's the kind of guy who is more than willing to carry the ball 60 times a day or 15 times a day. He'll do whatever we ask of him to do.

As important as Yates' numerous records are to the SOU program, it was the Raider defense that ensured the most important aspect of Saturday's outcome.

What was most important was that we got a `W', Olson said of the win that helped SOU equal the school's best start in eight years. To go through this run of Linfield, PLU and Willamette and come out 2-1 is great. Certainly I'd rather be 3-0, but we'll take 2-1.

Southern Oregon improved to 3-1 with Saturday's win and most likely will earn a return trip to the NAIA top-25 standings. The Raiders were ranked 18th before falling eight spots to No. 26 after a 47-23 setback at Pacific Lutheran last week.

After taking it on the chin against the Lutes, the Raider defense kept their chins up Saturday and delivered whenever SOU needed it most.

I'm very proud of our defense, said Olson. They kept battling. It was good to see them bounce back.

Willamette scored 14 of its 24 points with Southern Oregon's defense on the sideline. David Lizaola pounced on a fumble by Yates in the end zone for a touchdown, and Chris Smith intercepted a Dan Walters pass and return it 25 yards for a touchdown. Both scores came in a two-minute span during the third quarter and helped Willamette take a 24-17 lead.

Southern Oregon's defense then showed its true character to close out the game, allowing only two first downs and setting up three SOU scores by forcing four Bearcat turnovers.

Sophomore Kodiak Malmstrom pounced on a Bearcat fumble at Willamette's 25, with Yates scoring three plays later. Sophomore Nate Williams intercepted a pass and returned it to Willamette's 14, with Yates scoring from nine yards out after an offsides penalty.

Hage's interception for a touchdown provided the 38-24 cushion, and junior Jenner Yriarte picked off Rivera's next pass to put the nail in the coffin.

You can name anyone on the defense and they made a big play today, said Yriarte. It was just an all-around team effort.

We always know we can make it happen, it's just a matter of putting yourself in the position and never giving up. That's the thing about this defense, we never give up.

That defense suffered a major blow early in the fourth quarter when senior R.J. Josephson went down with a possible torn anterior cruciate ligament. Josephson will have an MRI done on the knee in a few days once the swelling goes down, but Olson said it looks like Josephson could be out for the season.

Southern Oregon's Griff Yates hurdles teammate Derek Shrives (41). Michael Susee (69) and Albert Dexter (44) pursue. - Becomes most