Raiders rumble past No. 2 Saints
ASHLAND — Southern Oregon’s vaunted passing attack gets a lot of attention — and it’s deserving — but the Raiders are far from a one-dimensional Frontier Conference program.
As good as quarterback Austin Dodge was Saturday in connecting with his bevy of receivers against second-ranked Carroll College — and he was steady throughout — the real key to the No. 22 Raiders’ 38-35 upset victory resided with a potent running game and gritty defense.
Sophomore Melvin Mason churned his way to 202 yards rushing and three touchdowns while SOU’s defense forced and recovered two fumbles — the final one halting a final drive by the Saints with 2:59 to play at Ashland High. SOU was forced to switch venues because artificial turf is still being installed at Raider Stadium.
“We just had to focus up and play four quarters of football,” said Mason. “We knew it was going to be a tough opponent to play against, they’re like that every year, but we just had to come out and play four quarters of football.”
From the outset, Saturday’s clash had all the makings of a contest that was due to go down to the wire as the teams traded scoring drives and defensive stands almost equally. In the end, however, it was Southern Oregon’s will to not give in that proved pivotal.
“To win these kind of games you have to believe in yourself and believe in your teammates, and they did that, there was no doubt,” said SOU head coach Craig Howard, whose team improved to 2-0 and 1-0 in Frontier play.
Carroll College (0-1, 0-1 Frontier) took advantage of a failed fake punt to take over possession near midfield just prior to halftime and took a 28-24 lead when quarterback Mac Roche connected with Anthony Clarke for a 19-yard score.
The Saints, who eliminated SOU in the 2001 and ‘02 NAIA Championship Series quarterfinals, built their biggest cushion on the opening drive of the second half to make it 35-24.
Undaunted, SOU’s defense simply put its faith in the Raider offense, and Dodge and company delivered with a scoring drive of their own. The scoring drive was highlighted by a sensational diving catch by Jeremy Scottow and later capped on a 1-yard TD run on fourth-and-goal by Mason, who had 142 of his rushing yards by halftime.
“Melvin ran big,” said Howard. “He played big and he showed why he has the potential to be such a great running back at Southern Oregon.”
The ensuing Carroll possession was promising but the Saints were eventually turned back when 6-foot-6 newcomer Victor Dean — playing his first game since transferring from Portland State — leaped to block a 35-yard field goal attempt by Colter Hamel. Prior to that, Dean had just missed a scoring chance on his first-ever play as a Raider when he couldn’t corral a pass at the back corner of the end zone and went slamming into a nearby fence just beyond the end zone.
When SOU’s offense returned to the field, Howard gave Dean another opportunity to shine and he responded by hauling in a perfectly placed 22-yard TD pass by Dodge on only his third series of the game.
“He’s involved in three plays,” Howard later said with a laugh. “He blocks a field goal, runs into a fence and scores a touchdown. I’m glad he’s here.”
Dean’s touchdown allowed SOU to take a 38-35 lead with 9:20 to play and the Raider defense cemented the victory when David Weider pressured Roche and knocked the ball out of his hands for a fumble that linebacker Alex Stork pounced on with 2:59 to go.
“So many of them played their hearts out,” Howard said of his defense. “It was a real team defensive effort, swarming to the football, playing their hearts out. Having the defense on the field to get that victory was fantastic. The offense gets a lot of the credit sometimes but defense wins championships.”
Mason and fellow running back Keegan Lawrence, who had 71 yards on nine carries, helped SOU run out the clock for an important victory that saw the Raiders post 280 yards on the ground and 281 through the air (Dodge completed 21 of 30 passes).
“Everything out there that each and every running back did is because of the offensive line,” said Mason. “If it wasn’t for the offensive line, nobody would be able to do any of it.”
Ryan Retzlaff finished with eight catches for 92 yards while Dylan Young used a 47-yard TD reception to finish with 85 yards on six catches. Scottow had two clutch receptions for 49 yards, while Stork paced SOU with 8.5 tackles. Defensive end Daniel Breaux was a steady contributor, while linebacker Laurence Calcagno (6.5 tackles) and free safety Julius Rucker (six tackles) spearheaded the defensive attack.
Carroll College; 7 21 7 0 — 35
Southern Oregon; 10 14 14 0 — 38
SOU — Mason 7 run (Rosas kick)
CC — Clarke 16 pass from Roche (Hamel kick)
SOU — FG Rosas 27
CC — Griffith 22 pass from Roche (Hamel kick)
SOU — Mason 40 run (Rosas kick)
SOU — Young 47 pass from Dodge (Rosas kick)
CC — Roche 17 run (Hamel kick)
CC — Clarke 19 pass from Roche (Hamel kick)
CC — Rinker 1 run (Hamel kick)
SOU — Mason 1 run (Rosas kick)
SOU — Dean 22 pass (Rosas kick)
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www. twitter.com/Kris_Henry