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Missed chances cost Raiders in loss to Willamette

ASHLAND — For the second straight year the Southern Oregon football team's bid to build momentum against Willamette started out promising.

For the second straight year, though, the Raiders were left deflated and disappointed.

SOU staked to a 13-3 halftime lead, but missed on several opportunities to put Willamette away and eventually paid for it in a 22-15 home loss on Saturday afternoon.

In last year's matchup, Willamette turned a 17-3 deficit into an eventual 31-23 triumph.

"Really frustrating," SOU coach Steve Helminiak said. "To lose a game at home like that when we had the lead and felt like we should win ... We'll have to see what we're made of now."

Southern Oregon (1-2) added on to a 7-3 lead when Vance Beach streaked to the middle of the end zone and caught a three-yard pass to finish a 10-play, 76-yard drive with 24 seconds remaining in the first half. However, that's when it all went awry for the home team.

The ensuing PAT bounced off the goal post. And when senior Shonti Tager recovered a Willamette fumble on the kickoff with 17 seconds remaining, the Raiders failed to take advantage.

After taking over at Willamette's 24, quarterback Paul Sweeney connected with Addagio Barone, who elected not to get out of bounds and time expired before SOU could attempt another play.

Willamette struck first in the third quarter when its fly offense prevailed after 19 plays and Mikey Lemon rushed the ball in from two yards out.

The Raiders got two points back as lineman Dan Harvey blocked the PAT and Damilyn Tanner ran it back for two points.

Willamette took its first lead at 16-15 on the next possession when Blake Arrowsmith fumbled his reception and Lukkes Gilgan ran it in from SOU's 37-yard-line.

"We warned them about big plays because they're a team that rolls on momentum," Helminiak said. "You give them opportunities, and they're going to take advantage of them like they did today."

Sophomore running back Brandon Baldwin appeared to put the Raiders back on top less than a minute later, breaking loose for a 60-yard touchdown run. However, the play was called back to Willamette's 21 after a block-in-the-back call.

Tyler Crowley eventually missed a 37-yard field goal attempt to end the possession. When a Bearcat fumble gave the Raiders a second chance at nearly the same spot a play later, Sweeney's pass to the end zone was intercepted.

"You can't blame what happened on the officials, because we still could have punched it in," Sweeney said. "We couldn't finish drives today, and that interception in the end zone I threw is something that just can't happen."

Sweeney was 8 for 12 in the first half, but only 3 for 9 in the second for negative net passing yardage.

The Bearcats tacked on the final score at the beginning of the fourth quarter on Brian Widing's 26-yard pass to the back of the end zone that found Scott Schoettgen.

Deon Horne paced the NCAA Division III Bearcats with 86 yards rushing and Ralph Pineda had a game-high 12 tackles.

On a bright note, Baldwin carried the ball 33 times and had another big day with 171 yards on the ground. Thomas Sandoval led the Raiders with nine tackles.

"Coach H is always preaching 'Finish, finish, finish,' and we didn't do that today," Sweeney said.

The Raiders will finish their home schedule next Saturday with a 6 p.m. contest against Linfield.

Southern Oregon's Paul Sweeney (14) launches a pass over Willamette's Cory Lowe in their game on Saturday. - Jamie Lusch