Marian roughs up SOU for NAIA title
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Aside from one spectactular “special play,” Southern Oregon’s high-octane “Ricky Bobby” offense sputtered and spiraled out of control several miles from the Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night.
The Raiders produced their lowest offensive output and were held scoreless in a first half for the first time in four years in a 31-14 loss to Marian (Ind.) in the NAIA Football Championship at Daytona Beach Municipal Stadium.
Facing the nation’s No. 2 scoring defense, Southern Oregon (11-3) produced only 208 total yards, an average of 3.3 per play. The Raiders held the ball for only 8:27 in the second half.
Last season, SOU scored 55 points and racked up 495 yards of offense en route to the program’s first national championship.
After converting a pair of third downs on their opening drive, the Raiders could not capitalize on typically tremendous field position. In the opening half, SOU’s average drive began at its own 37.
“We were playing not to lose the national championship, rather than to play and win the national championship,” Raider coach Craig Howard said. “That was my fault. I just didn’t get them ready in that way.”
A huge explanation for SOU’s inability to establish offensive rhythm was the loss of running back Melvin Mason. Mason, who scored four touchdowns in last season’s national championship, suffered a serious ankle injury on the game’s opening drive.
Prior to the injury, Mason ran twice for 7 yards.
“Losing him was not only the loss of a great player, but I thought it was a downer for our guys,” Howard said.
Sean Tow, Tanner Trosin and Louis Macklin combined for 32 yards on 17 attempts against Marian’s top-ranked rush defense.
Southern Oregon had not been held scoreless in a first half since Sept. 3, 2011, against Portland State, a Division I opponent. It's been more than a decade since an NAIA opponent blanked the Raiders for 30 minutes, according to the school's sports information department.
Both offenses, ranked among the NAIA's top 10 in scoring and total yards per game, fizzled in the first quarter. Neither team topped 100 total yards, producing the first scoreless opening quarter in an NAIA championship game since 2010.
But Marian head coach Mark Henninger felt comfortable, certainly compared to how he felt at the same time last year, when the Raiders jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the game's opening four minutes thanks to safety Julius Rucker's pick-six.
It was a precursor for things to come in the 2014 title game. Marian and Southern Oregon set a single-game championship record with 86 combined points. The Raiders forced eight turnovers, including six interceptions by Hayden Northern, to build a 38-10 halftime lead en route to the program's first title.
"We've been in that situation before. Defensively, I felt like we were playing really well," Henninger said. "They took a couple shots and we were able to defend them. ... We knew it was just a matter of time before our offense figured things out and got into a groove."
A Krishawn Hogan fumble, inside SOU's 20 after a 13-yard catch-and-run, killed a nine-play, 44-yard drive. To Northern, it proved the Knights (12-2) could efficiently move the ball despite being pinned against its own end zone.
Marian rebounded midway through the second, putting together a 13-play, 77-yard drive capped off by Maurice Woodard's 19-yard scamper to the end zone. Northern extended the drive twice with his legs, rushing for 20 yards on a pair of third downs.
Feeding off its defense forcing a third three-and-out and a 28-yard SOU punt under pressure, the Knights struck a second time just before halftime.
Hogan atoned for his error with a 2-yard rushing touchdown. Marian took a 14-0 lead into the locker room, outgaining the Raiders 205-78 inside the game's opening 30 minutes.
Early in the fourth quarter, benefitting off a roughing the kicker penalty, the Raiders busted up the shutout with one of their 28 “special” plays.
Trosin skipped a pass off the turf and behind the line of scrimmage to wide receiver Jeremy Scottow, who then launched a 32-yard touchdown to Matt Retzlaff.
Howard estimates his players worked on the play, known as "Double Trouble," around 500 times since the beginning of August.
"We run these plays so routinely that it just becomes second nature as any other play in our playbook," Scottow said. “I just told Matt to go up and get it. Tanner delivered a perfect ball, I couldn't have asked for a better route from Matt and we did what we do every day in practice."
Howard sought a spark to start a fire. Hogan — who had 11 catches for 147 yards — extinguished Southern Oregon's hopes on the ensuing drive.
The 6-foot-4 All-American beat his defender clean along the right sideline with a double move, hauled in Northern's pass and carried two defenders into the end zone for a 55-yard touchdown.
"When the coach calls plays like that, that I know I have an opportunity to do something big, I get really excited," Hogan said. "When I saw the corner bite on it, I knew Hayden would put it right there. ... They kind of pushed me into the end zone a little bit. I got a little help."
Northern completed 21 of 29 attempts for 211 yards. Trosin went 17 of 40 for 132 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
This was the first NAIA championship rematch in seven years since Carroll (Montana) and former member Sioux Falls (South Dakota), the last team to repeat as champion, tangled in 2007 and 2008.
During Marian's season-ending, nine-game winning streak, the Knights posted a pair of shutouts. They won six of those games, three in the playoffs, away from their Indianapolis campus.
Southern Oregon also won a pair of playoff games away from home, taking down the nation’s top two teams — Baker (Kan.) and Morningside (Iowa) — in consecutive weeks. But, unlike last year, the Raiders could not bring the game’s ultimate prize back home.
“We’re very, very disappointed. You can see it on the players’ faces,” Howard said. “We’re trying to handle this with dignity and class, but we’re crying inside.”