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Raiders fall prey to wolves

ASHLAND — The opportunities were there, right down to the final moments.

The Southern Oregon Raiders needed one more break, one sliver of daylight, one thunderbolt.

They didn't get it.

The Raiders desperately tried to reel in Western Oregon, but there was no fantastic finish. Instead, the Raiders hopes? were plowed asunder by Western Oregon's defensive rush as the Wolves hung on for a 21-13 Pear Bowl victory Saturday at Raider Stadium.

On the heels of a triple-overtime defeat at Willamette, the latest loss weighed heavily on fifth-year coach Jeff Olson, whose 17th-ranked NAIA team fell to 2-3.

There are no moral victories as far as we're concerned, Olson said. This was our turf, our Pear Bowl and we expected to do our best to win. The mark of a good team is winning the close ones. Last year, we were 3-0 in close ones. The difference between us being 4-1 right now instead of 2-3 is winning the close ones.

Western Oregon improved to 4-3.

From the final seconds of the first half until early in the fourth quarter, the Raiders trailed 14-13.

When Derrick Miles returned a punt 64 yards with 13:53 to play, it wiped away SOU's last pretense of trying to run the ball. Raider quarterback Dan Walters, who had been frequently jostled by the turbulent WOU defense, was in for wind shears the rest of the way.

We weren't having success running the ball, Olson said. And we have to be able to run the ball to beat a good team. Once they got up by eight, we were one dimensional and they put a lot of pressure on us. Before, we were able to keep them off-balance.

The Raiders? last best chance came with 7:39 to play when Nels Hage gobbled up Jermaine Ervin's fumble at the Western Oregon 38.

After punting nine times, the Raiders were fighting the clock and a defense that yielded 62 yards rushing all day.

Walters did what he could, scrambling for four yards on first down then completing a pass to Dan DeLeon for nine more and a first down at the WOU 25. After an incompletion, Walters hooked up with Danny Negra for an eight-yard gain to the 18.

But that proved the high-water mark of the drive.

On the next play, outside linebacker Ransen Rodrigues burst threw and dropped Walters back at the 26, bringing up a fourth-and-11. Before Walters could find a receiver, Rodrigues once again hammered Walters to the turf with 5:06 to play.

I made like I was going to guard the wide receiver and then came off the edge twice, said Rodrigues. I just came flying in.

But the Raider defense managed to give the offense another shot when it forced the Wolves to punt. Starting at the SOU 22 with 3:01 remaining there was time for a drive. Walters hit Leo Stoddard for 16 yards to the 38 and a pass to Dusty McGrorty netted seven. But on fourth-and-three, South Medford High graduate Jim Burnett came lumbering through the line to drop Walters at his own 38.

Burnett led the Wolves with seven tackles, including four for losses and had a simple answer for the multitude of passes tipped or deflected by the defensive front.

Their quarterback throws predominantly short, 10-15-yard outs and you can't put a lot of air on the ball, Burnett said. We spotted on film that people weren't getting their hands up and if you get your hands up, you?re going to bat the ball down.

Still, the Wolves couldn't kill the clock; there was still time for a miracle. But none was forthcoming. Walters completed a 17-yarder to Cox at the SOU 48. But after an incompletion, Walters? final toss down field was intercepted at the WOU 18.

They just did a great job of putting pressure on us, said Walters, who finished 18-of-38 for 236 yards with three interceptions. Some of the things they did confused our line.

The Raiders caused a bit of confusion of their own early in the game when they pulled a reverse pass out of the hat as Walters connected for a 36-yard TD pass to Toby Taylor in the first quarter.

Walters flipped the ball to Taylor, who handed it off to Stoddard, who flipped it back to Walters as the Wolves were bumping into one another.

Actually, Toby made a great play, because he got hit to the ground, got back up and still was open, Walters said. It was just a bit of trickery we put in because we need to create some big plays. We had run a reverse in the past and I'm sure they were respecting that.

But Taylor suffered a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury to his left knee in the second quarter. That's a loss that will be felt for the rest of the season.

We've lost (safety) Jenner Yriarte, Mike Seeborg and now Toby, Olson said. Jenner and Toby are both playmakers and when you take that away, it makes it really tough.

Reach reporter at 776-4483, or e-mail gstiles@mailtribune.com

Raiders fall prey to wolves