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After final letdown, Raiders hope for rematch with Knights in 2016

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — No pair of schools have ever competed for the NAIA Football Championship in three consecutive seasons.

But it’s Craig Howard’s dream to make it happen in 2016 — a third title tussle between Southern Oregon and Marian (Ind.)

"We won last year; they won this year. In the coaches' and players' dream world, we get the rubber match next year to decide this thing once and for all," Howard said.

The Raiders fell short in their bid to repeat as national champions, falling 31-14 to the Knights on Saturday night. SOU could have been the first back-to-back champion since former NAIA member Sioux Falls (South Dakota) accomplished the feat in 2008 and 2009.

In 2014, Austin Dodge and Melvin Mason led a 55-point barrage, and SOU forced eight turnovers to claim the first title in program history.

Howard has said repeatedly over the past two years he’d like to make a trip to Florida an annual tradition. Now, he wants Marian to join his team.

“Marian used last year’s loss as a motivator to get back here, and hopefully we can do that, too,” Howard said. “There’s an old saying in football — a setback is an opportunity for a comeback. To get back here, it’s big odds and a lot of good things have got to happen. But the first thing that’s got to happen is we walk off this field and head back to Ashland, get some time off, enjoy Christmas and then get to work.”

Howard’s not alone in his hopes for a rematch.

Junior quarterback Tanner Trosin, who completed just 17 of 40 passes for 132 yards, wants another crack at Marian’s No. 2 scoring defense.

“I’m disappointed in myself, and the way I performed,” Trosin said. “I’m disappointed in how we handled ourselves down the stretch. This offseason, we’ve got a lot to prove.

“Obviously, by how we played and how this game turned out, we definitely want a rematch. … We’re going to be working and grinding this offseason. Best believe we’re coming back.”

Marian is not opposed, either.

Knights coach Mark Henninger doesn’t necessarily care if his team defends its crown against SOU, so long as they’re back in the championship game.

“(Howard) stole my line. I said to him, ‘How about we do this again next year?’ ” Henninger said. “It’s a tribute to them and to us to be able to make it back. … It would be nice if they’re able to make it back, too. We’re kind of getting used to it.”

The odds are stacked against both teams, but it’s not completely far-fetched.

Marian, only in its ninth season of NAIA football, has qualified for the championship game three times. Southern Oregon has an 11-5 all-time postseason record, winning five times away from Ashland over the last two years.

Marian held six ranked teams to 14 points or fewer during the 2015 season. Southern Oregon has finished among the NAIA’s top 10 offenses each year since 2012, leading the nation twice.

Only time will tell if Howard’s dream becomes reality.