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This loss will linger in the minds of the Raiders for a very long time

Commentary

HELENA, Mont. ' To get a sense of how the Raiders felt following Saturday's surprising loss to Carroll College, one need only think of Christmas.

Yes, Christmas.

Everyone has had that one Christmas they remember vividly, but for all the wrong reasons.

If you think back, you can remember that year when one item outweighed all others on a wish list.

You had to have a certain present. a certain toy, a certain game ... that one treasured piece you simply couldn't do without.

Sure there were other presents, but none compared to that special one.

You harped on and on about it. Anyone within earshot knew you wanted it, and wanted it badly.

And as the day of unwrapping went on and on, despite gifts aplenty anyone would gladly call their own, the one item you treasured the most simply didn't appear.

Instantly your stomach dropped.

Everything became hazy.

Your eyes darted around, searching for some sense of reason.

Then you moved on.

For the Raiders, Saturday was that day.

All they wanted was a second chance at Carroll College. With that came a chance of equaling a school record with SOU's ninth victory, as well as the school's first berth in the NAIA Championship Series semifinals.

One big present wrapped up with two glorious bows.

Unfortunately, it became one big present snatched away at the last second by the neighborhood rival.

To make matters worse, for some Raiders, it was their last chance at such a prize.

Being a senior makes this more disappointing, and being up 17 in the fourth quarter ..., said safety Brad Kudlac, trailing off when answers failed to come. There's no way I would have thought it would have gone this way.

And why should he have thought that way? Plain and simple, SOU dominated the Saints for most of Saturday in an environment completely unsuited for SOU.

The temperature was a Carroll-friendly mid-20s to low-30s.

Although television images made it merely look like a game played on brown grass, it was much more than that. The ground at Nelson Stadium was frozen, with the only slight thawing having occurred outside the hash marks.

The footing was near impossible for linemen trying to run block or rush the passer. Time and again, the Raiders slid to the sidelines, pleading that it was like playing football on skates.

Not so coincidentally, the Saints offensive attack has little use for run blocking or anything inside the hash marks.

Through it all, however, the Raiders persevered.

Not only persevered, but conquered their surroundings.

Away from home, with only a few friendly faces of parents and friends to lift their spirits, the Raiders held firm to their dream.

They drove down the field against a heretofore stingy Saint defense, scoring time after time.

Facing one of the NAIA's most prolific offenses, the Raiders came up with big defensive plays time after time.

And it wasn't one person, it was everyone.

It wasn't the offense making up for its defense, or vice versa. It was a team in the fullest sense of the term standing up and doing whatever it could to secure the only thing it truly wanted: Victory.

And, in the end, it was a team that hugged each other when it never came.

It was a team that rallied around each other, saying grateful goodbyes to its seniors while turning another determined eye to 2003.

It was a team that deserved better.

And it was a team whose day will most definitely come soon.

Just not soon enough.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail