Late rally sinks SOU
Backup quarterback leads Carroll College into the semifinals
HELENA, Mont. ' If it isn't supposed to be, it's not going to be.
And for the ninth-ranked Southern Oregon Raiders, a playoff win over Carroll College apparently isn't supposed to be.
Southern Oregon outplayed the 10th-ranked Fighting Saints for three quarters Saturday afternoon, only to see all its hard work slip away in the fourth quarter as Carroll scored 21 unanswered points to steal away a 35-31 victory at a chilly Nelson Stadium.
With the quarterfinals victory, Carroll College (10-2) moves into the semifinals of the NAIA Championship Series for the third straight year, and for the second straight year at the Raiders' expense.
Carroll beat SOU, 16-13, in last year's quarterfinals with a touchdown pass with 30 seconds to play.
They found a way to get it done, and we couldn't finish it, said seventh-year SOU coach Jeff Olson. Our motto's been 'Unfinished Business' this year, and we couldn't finish it, so I guess we keep the same sign up next year.
SOU (8-3) had its first trip to the semifinals practically in its grasp with a 31-14 lead and 14:50 to play. To that point, SOU's offense was sensational and its defense as stout as can be hoped for against one of the NAIA's most potent offenses.
Then it all came crumbling down on the frozen Montana turf.
Carroll College scored on three straight series, needing miracle plays on each, and SOU's offense could only counter with one first down in comparison.
On the Saints' first scoring drive of the fourth quarter, they converted a fourth-and-22 play from SOU's 32-yard line.
On their second drive, a 28-yard pass bailed the Saints out from a fourth-and-14 situation at SOU's 40.
Just when the Raiders appeared to be mounting a drive to break up Carroll's momentum, a makable third-and-4 play soon turned into a third-and-19 following false start and holding penalties.
Once again with the ball and 3:59 to play, the Saints got out of third-and-17 and third-and-10 jams to drive downfield for the game-winning score with 1:22 to play.
Carroll just came out and made some big plays in the fourth quarter, said SOU quarterback Dan Woodward. A fourth-and-22, you just don't expect them to convert that. Things that never happen in football happened today.
It seems like we're jinxed against the Saints. I don't know what you do about that.
Fourth-year Carroll coach Mike Van Diest couldn't make things any clearer for the baffled Raiders.
That's two years in a row, said an equally amazed Van Diest. I don't know how you can get any closer games than what we've had. If we played 10 more times, I'm not sure it wouldn't be 5-5.
Van Diest was one of several on hand counting themselves lucky to escape the Raiders once again.
They're a very, very good football team, said the coach. I'm so impressed with Southern Oregon and what Jeff has done there. They're one of the top teams we've played the last three years in the playoffs. Fortunately and unfortunately, one key break here or there has decided the game the last two years.
Southern Oregon made those key plays for the first three quarters, riding the strong arm of Woodward and the hard running of Dusty McGrorty to put Carroll on its heels.
After three runs by McGrorty got the Saints' attention on the opening drive, Woodward turned to 6-foot-3 receiver Danny Negra for a big play down the left sideline, and the senior delivered. Negra soared into the air and pulled down Woodward's offering over cornerback Brett Bermingham for a 47-yard score just 2:14 into the contest.
Bad seemingly turned to worse for Carroll moments later when starting quarterback Tyler Emmert was forced out of the game with a separated shoulder. Luke Young's sack on the Saints' first series paved the way for Emmert's departure, with linebacker Damien Schubert sealing the deal with a bone-crunching hit on an Emmert scramble five plays later.
In stepped backup quarterback Robb Latrielle and, surprisingly, the Saints never missed a beat. Latrielle connected on his only two passing attempts, a 20-yarder to Mark Gallik and a 14-yarder to Justin Wigen, to set up D.J. Dearcorn's 1-yard run that tied the game at 7-7.
SOU's next drive began at midfield thanks to a good kick return by Nick Daniken, but stalled around Carroll's 10-yard line. Kicker Steve Baker, who had little success finding good footing during the pregame warmup, stayed on his feet for a 23-yard attempt, only to watch it smack the right upright and sail wide.
After holding off Carroll, SOU needed 10 plays to go 60 yards for another score, this one a 4-yard romp by McGrorty, who finished with 161 yards and two TDs on 27 carries.
The Saints stuck to the ground on their ensuing drive, but aired it out for another tying score when Latrielle found Gallik from the SOU 2.
A 46-yard bomb that SOU receiver Bobby Poeltl made a spectacular catch on put the Raiders in scoring contention once again, with Baker capping an 11-play drive with a 22-yard field goal.
Jordan Franco's interception of an errant Latrielle pass with 38 seconds to go until halftime helped ensure SOU's 17-14 lead at intermission.
Both teams struggled out of the gate in the third quarter, with Daniken's interception snuffing one of the Saints' drives.
SOU finally got things going when McGrorty burst through a big hole supplied by his offensive line and raced 19 yards with four minutes left in the third quarter.
Two completions from Woodward to Heykel Aouriri moved the ball to Carroll's 48-yard line, and McGrorty and his line mates did the rest as the junior took an inside handoff, shrugged off an arm tackle by A.J. Porrini and raced 48 yards to pay dirt.
He's a great back and you're not going to make a tackle in the open field on him, said Van Diest. I thought we made him work for his yards for the most part, but we had no chance on that one.
That 24-14 deficit for Van Diest and company grew to 31-14 on the first play of the fourth quarter when Poeltl found Negra on a double pass for a wide-open 19-yard score.
We just got caught peeking in the backfield a little bit too much, said Van Diest. Our secondary was concerned with playing the run, but they should've paid a little more attention to the receivers.
Clearly the beneficiaries of that lack of attention ' and one of Woodward's best performances of the year ' Negra finished with seven receptions for 150 yards and two scores and Poeltl hauled in five passes for 98 yards.
But while dreams of playoff games to come danced in the Raiders' heads, the Saints were busy with thoughts of an improbable comeback.
Latrielle needed only four minutes to lead Carroll to the end zone, sparked by his 30-yard hookup to Zack Zawacki on fourth-and-22. On the play, Zawacki simply ran a post route and, even with Daniken poised to make a play, somehow came out with the reception.
Zawacki did a great job of going up in the air and fighting for the ball, said Van Diest. I thought a couple times the coverage was great, but he just went up and made some athletic plays.
After forcing a three-and-out series by the Raiders, the Saints marched back downfield with a gluttony of yards over the middle as Latrielle carved up SOU's prevent defense. Zawacki once again made the big play, latching onto a 28-yard gain on fourth-and-14. Tight end Casey FitzSimmons hauled in a 12-yard score on the next play, breathing even more life into the Saints with 6:16 to play in a 31-28 tilt.
After penalties bogged down the Raiders, Carroll was pushed back on its first play when Young's third sack dropped the Saints to their own 6.
Undaunted, Latrielle and company had an answer thanks to a pass interference penalty on third-and-17 and a 29-yard connection to Gallik on third-and-10. Gallik, who finished with 12 catches for 176 yards, capped the drive with a sliding 11-yard reception with 1:22 to play.
An uncharacteristic fumble by Daniken on the ensuing kickoff gave the ball back to Carroll to essentially run out the clock.
On the play, Daniken, clubbed right hand and all, simply was trying to make a big play for his team with extra effort when the ball was pried away.
I can't ask any more of our kids than what they did today, said Olson. It's a heckuva group. There's no need to apologize for anything.
Just a need to put that sign back up and go for it again in 2003.
At Nelson Stadium
SOU ' Negra 47 pass from Woodward (Baker kick)
CC 'Dearcorn — run (Crites kick)
SOU ' McGrorty 4 run (Baker kick)
CC ' Gallik 2 pass from Latrielle (Crites kick)
SOU ' FG Baker 22
SOU ' McGrorty 48 run (Baker kick)
SOU ' Negra 19 pass from Woodward (Baker kick)
CC ' Latrielle — run (Crites kick)
CC ' FitzSimmons 12 pass from Latrielle (Crites kick)
CC ' Gallik 11 pass from Latrielle (Crites kick)
Southern Oregon ' McGrorty 27-161, White 2-3, Woodward 2-2.
' Dearcorn 12-53, Grosulak 5-13, Wall 3-1, Emmert 2-(-1), Gallik 1-(-2), Latrielle 12-(-8).
' Woodward 20-28-0 254, Poeltl 1-1-0 19.
' Emmert 3-3-0 35, Latrielle 23-43-2 353.
' Negra 7-150, Poeltl 5-98, Aouriri 4-24, Conrad 2-10, White 1-22, Dice 1-9, McGrorty 1-0.
' Gallik 12-176, FitzSimmons 5-103, Zawacki 3-67, Wigen 3-26, Wall 2-6, Dearcorn 1-9.