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Raiders come up short against Azusa

Cougars win defensive struggle after overcoming a 9-0 deficit and cashing in on a pair of Raider fumbles

ASHLAND ' No one said life is fair, but it would be nice if the Southern Oregon defense could catch a break at some point this season.

The 17th-ranked Raiders allowed one long scoring drive but little else in yeoman's work Saturday, but didn't have much to cling to by night's end as Azusa Pacific eked out a 13-9 triumph in front of 1,600 at Raider Stadium.

Give them a lot of credit, Azusa Pacific head coach Peter Shinnick said of SOU's defense. They played strong football. Their defense has played well all year; we just found a way to score more points tonight.

The seventh-ranked Cougars (4-0) entered the game averaging 347 yards of total offense, with All-American tailback Ben Buys ranked ninth in the NAIA at 110 yards per game, but left with those marks tarnished by the Raiders. SOU (2-2) limited Buys to 53 yards on 20 carries and Azusa Pacific to 226 yards of total offense.

— Still, two Raider fumbles gave the Cougars a short field that they converted for 33- and 30-yard field goals in the second half. And that proved to be enough as SOU's offensive woes continued against a sound APU defense.

Both defenses really did a great job against each other's offense, said Shinnick, whose team won its second straight over SOU and first in Ashland. Southern Oregon had a great game plan on both sides of the ball, but we just kept this thing close and finally got the lead and never let go of it.

While SOU head coach Jeff Olson certainly appreciated the respect for his team, the final score was the only thing on his mind after the nip-and-tuck affair.

Moral victories don't count, they never have, said Olson, whose team now faces an uphill climb toward a playoff berth.

Senior linebacker David Zauher, who led SOU with 12 tackles, echoed the sentiments of his coach.

It doesn't matter, Zauher said of any frustration the Raider defenders might be feeling toward the offense. We're all in this together. If (the offense isn't) putting up points, we've gotta have their back. We're going to play our hearts out every game, no matter what. Sometimes it just doesn't roll your way, but we've got a lot of football left. Nothing's over yet.

SOU had the look of a team destined for glory in the early going as quarterback Brandon Griffith scrambled for 28 yards and tailback Bill Jolin averaged about 5 yards per carry in driving the Raiders to the Azusa 5-yard-line on SOU's second series.

Unfortunately, self-destruction for the Raiders reared its ugly head again as Griffith released an ill-advised pass in the left flat and it was intercepted by linebacker Mike Perez at the goal line.

Undaunted, SOU mounted another drive in its next series as Griffith and crew marched from their own 24 to the APU 15 on a mixture of passes and quick spurts by reserve tailback Antar Mahasin in relief of an injured Jolin. When the drive stalled, Ryan Baker drilled a 32-yard field goal with 12:52 to go in the second quarter to put SOU ahead 3-0.

After holding the Cougars to a three-and-out series, SOU hit a wall of its own but caught a break following a Baker punt when Cameron Tucker coughed up the ball during his return thanks to a hit by Anthony Dobrowolski.

Caleb Krantz recovered the fumble at Azusa's 41 and a 27-yard run by Mahasin ' cleared by a devastating block from Carl Dice ' set the stage for a 9-yard touchdown completion from Griffith to Bobby Poeltl. The extra-point attempt was blocked by Kenny Simmons, leaving SOU's lead at 9-0 with 6:10 to go until intermission.

Azusa finally got things going with 3:05 on the clock, marching 73 yards in 12 plays as quarterback Sean Davis calmly completed 7 of 9 passes for 51 yards and scrambled for 21 more on the drive. Tight end Ricky Burgan hauled in a 2-yard TD pass to cap the series, which was completed with only 12 seconds to go until halftime.

That was huge, Shinnick said of APU's late scoring drive. That just gave our offense a little confidence, a little boost that we needed.

The Raiders held the Cougars without a first down on the first series in the third quarter, but Poeltl's fumble on a punt return gave the ball right back near midfield. Six plays later, APU's Mike Betancourth drilled the first of his two field goals.

Neither team managed much offense from that point until the Cougar defense stepped up and forced a fumble by Griffith on the second play of the fourth quarter.

The senior dropped back on a third-and-four at the Azusa 44 but never got a pass away as linebacker Clint Shamblin knocked the ball loose on a sack and it was returned by Jacob Fisher to the SOU 13. Poeltl saved a touchdown with his all-out hustle on the play, and the Raider defense did what they do best from that point on in holding APU to a 30-yard field goal.

Griffith was pulled shortly thereafter, giving way to former South Medford High standout Boomer Marshall with 12:34 to go in the game. Marshall picked up one first down and completed 2 of 4 passes on his first series, including one play that Poeltl was a shoestring tackle away from a major gain.

SOU got the ball back following a forced fumble by the Raider defense before time expired, but Marshall and company couldn't quite put anything together.

They had no reason to respect the run at that time, Olson said of the Cougars. They were going to tee off and come after him, but for his first real solid action as a quarterback at this level, Boomer handled things very well. He was very composed.

Marshall had one potential completion at the APU 15 to Mike Olson negated with a vicious hit by defensive back Gabe Higerd and another pass hit Poeltl's face mask near the same spot a few minutes later. The redshirt freshman finished completing 4 of 15 passes for 33 yards. with two interceptions on Hail Mary offerings.

We were so close to hitting the deep ball, lamented Olson.We were so close.

Just not close enough.

Offensively, we've yet to find an identity, said Marshall. Hopefully in this next week or two we can find an identity and stick to it and become a good football team on both sides of the ball. Right now we're a little suspect on the offensive side of the ball, not because of personnel, not because of coaching, just because we really haven't found ourselves. But we will.

At Raider Stadium

Azusa Pacific0733'13

Southern Oregon0900'9

SOU ' FG Baker 32

SOU ' Poeltl 9 pass from Griffith (kick blocked)

A ' Burgan 2 pass from Davis (Betancourth kick)

A ' FG Betancourth 33

A ' FG Betancourth 30

TEAM STATISTICS

APSOU

First Downs1314

Rushes-yards36-7433-148

Passing yards152136

Comp-Att-Int18-33-015-39-3

Total yards226284

Punts4-327-51

Fumbles-lost2-22-2

Penalties-yards4-327-51

INdivIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING

Azusa Pacific

' Buys 20-53, Allen 1-14, Peltier 7-6, Davis 7-1.

Southern Oregon

' Mahasin 19-98, Jolin 8-29, Griffith 5-26, Marshall 1-(minus 5).

PASSING

Azusa Pacific

' Davis 18-33-0 152.

Southern Oregon

' Griffith 11-24-1 103, Marshall 4-15-2 33.

RECEIVING

Azusa Pacific

' Staley 6-52, Miller 4-35, Burgan 3-47, Herrera 2-12.

Southern Oregon

' Poeltl 5-63, Dice 3-31, Leeper 2-13, Mahasin 2-(minus 1).

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