Raiders slay No. 1 Morningside, earn return trip to Daytona
SIOUX CITY — Somebody had to win.
And, after six lead changes on a 40-degree December afternoon at Olsen Stadium, that somebody turned out to be Southern Oregon, pulling out a dramatic 30-27 victory in an NAIA football playoff semifinal that sets up a rematch of last year’s national championship game.
Junior transfer Tanner Trosin converted a fourth-and-four quarterback draw with 1:15 left in the contest, scoring from 5 yards out to give the defending NAIA champs the win over No. 1-ranked Morningside, playing in the semifinals for a fourth year in a row.
It was a bit of revenge for Southern Oregon, which lost a 47-44 overtime quarterfinal here to Morningside’s 2012 national runners-up. This made it three semifinal setbacks in a row for Coach Steve Ryan’s program, which has had playoff teams an NAIA-leading 12 years in a row.
This one was the most dramatic semifinal defeat for the Mustangs, who drove to the Southern Oregon 24-yard line before Jared Amundson’s potential tying field goal from 41 yards wound up being too low to clear the Raiders’ special teams rush and was blocked by A.J. Cooper.
“We’ve played Morningside twice here now and they’ve both been donnybrooks,’’ said 63-year-old Southern Oregon coach Craig Howard, whose team beat Marian 55-31 in last year’s championship game. “I thought maybe we would go to overtime again.’’
“I tell you what, though,’’ added Howard, an Oregon native who moved back to his roots when he took this job in 2011, “coach Ryan and those guys, I feel bad for them. It’s a great program and it’s not easy to get to the semifinals and they’ve done it four times.’’
Seventh-ranked Southern Oregon will take an 11-2 record to Daytona Beach, Fla., for the repeat championship pairing with Marian on Dec. 19.
Marian, ranked No. 6 and also 11-2, won Saturday’s other semifinal 45-14 in an all-Indiana battle over No. 4 and previously unbeaten St. Francis on its home turf in Fort Wayne.
That duplicated semifinal road wins a year ago for both Marian and Southern Oregon, overcoming home-field advantages for Morningside and St. Xavier of Chicago, respectively.
Trosin completed 27 of 39 passes for 391 yards, a season high and just his second game over 300 for a program that saw Austin Dodge average 374 aerial yards in a 13-2 campaign last fall. The shifty junior also scrambled for a game-high 76 rushing yards on 21 carries, breaking a 27-yard keeper for a TD that sent his team in front 23-21 late in the third quarter.
Morningside regained a 27-23 advantage with 9:12 to play on a 1-yard carry that marked the last of three short scoring totes for junior running back Tyler Kavan.
When the Mustangs followed that with their only three-and-out defensive stop of the game, a rare Southern Oregon punt led to a bizarre sequence that wound up being ruled a touchback. Then, after three straight running plays left the Great Plains Athletic Conference champs facing fourth-and-two from their own 28, they were forced to punt it back with 5:28 left.
A strong kick and two Southern Oregon penalties backed the Raiders up to their own 7-yard line, setting up the game-deciding sequence.
The defending champs threw six passes in a row, completing five for 46 yards to the Morningside 47. Sean Tow’s 17-yard run and a costly personal foul chewed up 32 of the 44 yards that got them to a second-and-two at the 3-yard line. Then, big tackles by Ethan Stofferan and Zac Schleuger, Morningside’s two outstanding senior linebackers, pushed the guests back to the 5-yard line, where Trosin took off for his fourth-down game-winner.
“I had a rough start, but I kept my faith and everybody believed in each other,’’ said an emotional Trosin. “Glory to the Lord. He blessed this team and he blessed this coaching staff and they have done an incredible job teaching us as men and having us grow as football players and individuals.’’
With 75 seconds and two timeouts remaining, Morningside’s NAIA-leading offense was certainly capable of answering. And, the Mustangs very nearly did on the first play after the kickoff, when Kasdorf slightly underthrew a bomb to Michael Whitehead just enough to have the ball batted away.
A 16-yard pass to Tanner Versteeg converted a fourth-and-three to the 50 with 48 seconds left and Kasdorf’s 20-yarder to Jason Vander Kooi moved the chains again, getting the Mustangs to the Southern Oregon 35. After a 6-yard second-down pass, Southern was penalized 5 yards to the 24 for having only 10 men on the field.
With only five seconds on the clock, that’s where Amundson suffered his second field goal miss of the day after hitting 13 of 16 tries previously this season. The freshman from East High also had a 29-yarder sail wide of the uprights in the first quarter and Morningside had receivers fail to handle a number of catchable throws.
That didn’t stop Kasdorf from taking the bullet.
“I made a lot of bad throws, poor decisions,’’ said the fifth-year senior who led the NAIA in passing efficiency for the third time in as many seasons at Morningside. “On that last drive, if I don’t underthrow that ball to Michael Whitehead he probably catches it in stride for a touchdown.’’
Freshman middle linebacker Devvon Gage of Southern Oregon, who had a game-high 13 tackles, was the defensive player of the game and the Raiders also enjoyed a strong performance from junior slotback Matt Retzlaff (nine receptions for 139 yards).
Adonis Griffin and Jeremy Scottow each had 43 yards receiving, while Tow finished with 40 yards rushing on 13 carries and 78 yards receiving on four catches to offset the loss of SOU’s leading running back Melvin Mason, who missed the game after coming down with the flu.
David Weider was in on all three Raider sacks of Kasdorf and Karrington Jones grabbed his seventh interception of the season, which was just Kasdorf’s fourth of the season. Jones’ interception matched him with Nathan Mart for the most of any Raider in a season since 2000.
Howard, a veteran college coach who spent much of his career as a defensive coordinator, took an eight-year sabbatical of sorts by coaching at two Florida high schools. He won a Class 4A state title in 2005 with senior Tim Tebow at quarterback for Nease High School in Ponta Vedra Beach. Two years later, Howard had added a pair of state runner-up finishes when Tebow became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy.
Just 8-13 over two seasons at Oregon Tech (1991-92) in his only previous college head coaching job, Howard’s return to his native state hooked him up with another outstanding quarterback, taking over Southern Oregon when Dodge stepped in as the Raiders’ freshman starter.
Four years later, Dodge wrapped up his career with last year’s national title and also shattered the NAIA record for passing yardage with 17,261. The hefty number was nearly 4,000 better than the previous NAIA mark and ranks second for all levels of college football, trailing only Case Keenum’s 19,217 yards for Houston from 2007-11.
Trosin, Saturday’s offensive MVP, had that tough act to follow as the successor to Dodge, but he’s passed the test with flying colors.
“I found a winner, he’s a great competitor,’’ said Howard, delighted with the performance he’s seen all season from Dodge’s successor, a native of Folsom, Calif., who transferred from American River College in Sacramento.