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Raider defense to the rescue

Head coach Jeff Olson said "they handled themselves pretty — well."

Running back Bill Jolin said they kept the Raiders in — the game.

Cornerback Kellan Quick went a step further: "We could — be one of the best defenses in the NAIA right now," he said. "They couldn't — pass on us at all."

Such high praise has gone almost exclusively to the Southern — Oregon University offense in recent years, but it was SOU's defense that — stole the show during Saturday's 21-7 season-opening win over Si Tanka-Huron.

Not that the Raider offense flopped - SOU gained 384 yards, — with starting quarterback Brandon Griffith completing 21 of 33 passes — for 271 yards and three touchdowns. But, utilizing a 3-4 zone-blitzing — scheme, SOU's D? stole the show by holding the Screaming Eagles no huddle, — spread offense scoreless despite five trips into the Raider red zone.

"Defensively, a lot of guys were on the ball," Olson said. — "It was a team effort."

Si Tanka's lone score was a 69-yard interception return — by Josh Davis in the fourth quarter that cut the Raiders' lead to 14-7 — with 7:42 to go. SOU responded with a nine-play, 65-yard drive that Griffith — punctuated with a perfect scoring strike to Bobby Poeltl from four yards — out.

The Eagles did gain 364 yards, but 76 of those came against — the Raiders' prevent defense after the outcome had already been decided.

The leaders

Senior linebacker David Zauher led the Raiders with seven — solo tackles and seven assists and junior linebacker Chad Harrell added — three solos and eight assists. Though no statistic could do it justice, — the Raider secondary also came up huge. Corners Quick and Madison Caeser — along with safeties Toby Walker and Mike O'Brien teamed up to hold Si — Tanka's two quarterbacks - Kedric Stokes and Kyle Dieckman - to a subpar — 47 percent completion percentage (22 of 46).

"Our secondary stepped up big today and they shut down — their receivers all day," said Quick, the 6-1, 180-pound sophomore who — led that secondary with a blocked field goal and a fumble recovery. "It — starts off our season on a good note."

The Raiders defensive flash wasn't entirely unexpected. — Consecutive solid recruiting classes and a few key transfers has significantly — bolstered SOU's athleticism at virtually every defensive position. It's — early, but so far those offseason upgrades seem to have turned a weakness — into a strength.

Last season, SOU's offense, led by former stars Dusty — McGrorty and Andrae Thurman, amassed an average of 414 yards per game — and at times looked nearly unstoppable. The defense, however, couldn't — hold up its end of the bargain, as Raider opponents gained an average — of 366 yards per game. That lack of 'D'? particularly in the secondary, — ultimately cost SOU a shot at the playoffs.

Saturday, the Raiders showed signs that those days are — over.

The defensive line, anchored by a group of giant tackles, — clogged up the middle. Raider linebackers for the most part filled the — gaps. And best of all, the team's secondary, which surrendered 256 passing — yards per game last season, held Si Tanka's speedy receiving corps in — check despite facing constant pressure via an unexpected no-huddle.

"We kept everything in front," Olson said.

Including kicks.

Early in the first quarter, Gordon Lo-Hing lined up for — a 37-yard field-goal attempt that would have given the Eagles the early — lead. The boot was low, however, and Quick got both hands on the ball — to reject the kick.

Topping it off —

Si Tanka's final drive provided the perfect exclamation — point for the Raiders' defense. Facing SOU's prevent look, the Eagles — were able to drive 57 yards to the Raider 13 with about a minute left. — A seven-yard pass sandwiched around two incompletions brought up a fourth-and-three — from the six.

Needing a touchdown to keep its hopes alive, Si Tanka — opted for a pass play. Last season, that may have been a money call, but — Saturday it was a mistake. Dieckman dropped back and, after seeing each — of his receivers blanketed, made a break for the end zone himself. He — was stuffed by Harrell at the four, ending the drive and the game.

Offense too —

Outside of the solid defensive effort, the Raiders also — came away pleased with their new-look offense. Griffith looked comfortable — in his first start, Poeltl (7 catches, 102 yards) was outstanding in his — first game as the featured receiver and Jolin gained over 100 yards (23 — carries, 111 yards) on the ground for good measure.

Griffith made some mistakes, but was clutch when it counted — most.

After the interception return cut SOU's lead to seven, — Griffith sharpened up on the Raiders' next drive, completing four of five — passes, including two on third down. The first third-down completion - — a perfectly executed square-out to Chris Hill - kept the drive alive at — midfield and the second provided the exclamation point.

"We've got a lot of depth on this offense," Griffith said. — "We're just going to do a little bit of everything. If you can switch — it up, you're diverse that way. If teams go hard against the run, we'll — air it out a little more. If they put three-deep back, we'll run the ball. — So we showed today that we can do a little bit of everything and that's — what to expect all year."

Raider Notes: SOU continues its nine-game regular season — schedule Saturday at Humboldt State, where the Raiders suffered a 31-10 — loss last year. The Lumberjacks were throttled 42-7 Saturday by Cal Poly, — a NCAA Division I-AA school.... Olson received an inspirational e-mail — from McGrorty prior to the game, which he read to the team. McGrorty, — who shattered every major small college rushing record before graduating — in June, was cut by the St. Louis Rams on Sunday but will probably be — added to their practice squad.... Olson was pleased with the offensive — production overall, but said the Raiders need to shore up their pass blocking. — Griffith was sacked twice for a loss of 10 yards.