Raiders mix it up in Red & Black scrimmage
ASHLAND — It may have been just a scrimmage but the pads were popping and there were plenty of big hits to be handed out Saturday during Southern Oregon University's eighth annual Red & Black football exhibition at Raider Stadium.
The controlled scrimmage, which featured nearly two hours of officiated situation plays and two 12-minute quarters, was the 16th and final spring practice for the Raiders.
A smattering of fans, mostly family and friends of the players, turned out to watch SOU's final hurrah before fall camp begins on Aug. 4.
They were treated to a number of highlights from returning players and a handful of newcomers.
"It's fun to get out here and actually play a little on such a nice day," said senior returning starting quarterback Bryan Lee-Lauduski, who saw limited action. "We were able to do some things and move the ball on them (defense) a few times. The defense was probably a little ahead of us earlier this spring but I'd say we've caught up a little bit."
The Raiders return 35 letter-winners from last season's 5-4 squad — SOU's first winning campaign since 2003 — and welcomed in 15 new recruits. Southern Oregon also returns seven starters on both sides of the ball.
There was some rust, particularly on offense, where the Raiders labored at times moving the ball and committed several false start penalties.
"I thought we were a little inconsistent at times today on offense," said Steve Helminiak, who will enter his third year as SOU coach next fall. "I did think we were strong at running back but we need more consistency on the line at clearing holes for them."
The running game, which averaged under 100 yards per game last season, will have a stable full of tailbacks to help improve the rushing attack.
Leading the way Saturday was senior Marlon Rosales, SOU's leading ground gainer a year ago and the current No. 1 tailback on the depth chart.
"I think Rosy did really well," said Helminiak. "He definitely solidified his spot as our top back. He did a lot of work in the weight room in the offseason. You can tell, he's bigger, stronger and a much tougher runner."
Rosales, who ran for 410 yards on 118 carries last season, showed strength and quickness early in the scrimmage.
He shared carries with junior Patrick Preyer, redshirt freshman Drew Nobles, junior Ian Lloyd and sophomore T.R. Smith, a University of Oregon transfer.
Each tailback provided a different look, with Preyer (5-9, 210) mixing a hard-punishing style and Smith, still shaking off the early season rust, providing a change-of-pace with agility and quickness.
"Patrick ran it well," said Helminiak, "and I thought Nobles and Lloyd did a good job. T.R. is still a little rusty but you can see he's going to be a good one."
Preyer had the biggest highlight of the early part of the scrimmage when he busted up the middle, side-stepped a defender, then out-raced the secondary for a 70-yard touchdown run.
"We're not great yet, but we are definitely getting better," said Rosales. "We're deep and our first three guys and backups are all strong runners.
"For me, it was nice just to get the legs back and get in some game situations."
Four other quarterbacks saw action besides Lee-Lauduski.
Junior transfers Kiel Trudeau and Blake Sutton each guided the offense to touchdowns, while Paul Sweeney and J.C. Hunsaker also saw a number of snaps.
Senior Darryl Price, the Raiders' leading returner at wide receiver, redshirt freshmen Addagio Barone and Keshaun King, and transfers Harvey Taylor and Brandon Stout made up a solid receiver corps on Saturday.
Defensively, SOU has made a smooth transition to new coordinator John Ely, who was hired in March to head up a feisty crew. Ely runs the same three-man front the Raiders instituted last season.
On Saturday, the Raiders' first defensive unit barely budged against SOU's offensive attack.
"We came out better today than we did earlier this spring in another scrimmage we had," said Ely. "There are still some creases and cutback lanes we have to do a better job of filling, but overall I'm pretty happy.
"Mainly, something like this gives us a chance at evaluating a lot of guys."
Southern Oregon begins the 2008 season on Aug. 28 with a game at Montana Tech in Butte, Mont.
The first of four home games for SOU is scheduled for Sept. 6 against Humboldt State.
Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 776-4483, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org