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Stingy pays off

ASHLAND — It was an ornery defensive effort that led fifth-ranked Southern Oregon to a 31-6 win Saturday over Montana Western on re-turfed Fuller Field.

The win marked the Raiders’ first 6-0 start to a football season since 1947.

Southern Oregon’s offense wasn’t as prolific as usual, but the Raiders’ defense made up for every bit of it by shutting the Bulldogs out of the end zone while giving up less than 300 yards of total offense and recovering a pair of fumbles.

“I was proud of our defense today, they really played well. The opponent was coming in averaging a lot of points. Even though they hadn’t won a lot of games, they were still scoring a lot,” said SOU head coach Craig Howard.

Senior Heston Altenbach led the Raiders’ defense with eight solo tackles — two for a loss and one sack — at middle linebacker, a position he started for the first time Saturday.

Howard praised the hard-nosed effort of Altenbach, who came to SOU as a quarterback and moved to safety then outside linebacker before his placement in the middle of the field.

“Last year they ate us up on the ground so we were worried about stopping the run,” Altenbach said.

The Raiders held Montana Western (2-5, 2-4 Frontier) to 168 yards on the ground by way of 43 carries and forced two of the Bulldogs’ three fumbles. Unforced was a first-quarter snap over the head of UMW quarterback Tyler Hulse that Raiders junior defensive end Trevor Jones jumped on to recover.

Senior linebacker Laurence Calcagno recorded six unassisted tackles, with 1 1/2 sacks. The Raiders sacked Hulse a total of five times while man-handling the Bulldogs at the line of scrimmage to generate 11 tackles for a loss.

The Bulldogs’ lone pair of field goals came in the fourth quarter off 38- and 29-yard boots from Connor Greth, who was denied on two other attempts. Greth went wide right on a 41-yard attempt in the first quarter and had his 29-yard second-quarter attempt blocked by SOU junior defensive lineman Joseph Lealofi.

Hulse threw for 110 yards on 13 of 23 passing and scrambled for another 85 on 15 runs. Most of Hulse’s keepers came on what looked like broken plays.

The Raiders got on the board first with a 40-yard field goal from Aldrick Rosas, who missed another wide right from 48 yards on the next drive in the first quarter. Rosas’ field goal ended a 13-play, 62-yard drive that took just over five minutes.

“Even though we weren’t as dynamic as we usually are we still have a lot to be proud of,” said Howard.

On the sideline, late in the third, after SOU had been shut down on three consecutive drives, Howard rumbled over to his winded offense fresh off the field and told them, “You ought to be ashamed of yourselves! ... it’s selfish!” — for not scoring more and giving SOU’s second-string players a go.

Senior Austin Dodge threw for 259 yards, completing 19 of 30 passes for one touchdown. Dodge is as prolific as it comes for a college quarterback. He threw six touchdown passes in SOU’s last game against Montana State-Northern, but didn’t put up his first and only touchdown pass on Saturday until the fourth quarter with a beautiful eight-yard touch pass to senior receiver Dylan Young, who was running a fade route into the back corner of the end zone.

The score put SOU (6-0, 5-0 Frontier) up 31-3 and ended a four-play, 66-yard drive in 2 minutes, 23 seconds. It also put Dodge just four touchdown passes shy of the NAIA record with five regular season games to play.

As leading receiver, Young had seven catches for 116 yards, including a 63-yard bomb from Dodge in the third quarter that took SOU to the goal line and set up an easy touchdown run for sophomore running back Sean Tow. That score capped off a five-play, 82-yard drive that chewed up just a minute and a half of time — a typical ‘prolific’ SOU drive.

Tow scored once prior in the second quarter. It was another one-yard run into the end zone that finished a 10-play, 76-yard drive in just under four minutes.

The Raiders racked up 222 yards, with 205 of it coming from three backs: Tow, who covered 63 yards on 12 carries; freshman Lawrence Keegan, who ran for 81 yards on eight carries; and sophomore Melvin Mason, who ran for 61 yards and one touchdown on 10 carries.

Mason scored less than a minute into the fourth quarter on a five-yard run. During the eight-play, 62-yard drive, Keegan racked up 33 yards on three carries to help move the Raiders down the field.

“I feel like we executed, for the most part, our game plan. The stats may not be there, but we are 6-0 and we did win 31-6, so regardless of what did happen offensively, we did get the W,” Dodge said. “In the end, offensively, we want to score more points and the stats will come with it ... but you can’t complain about a win.”

Next week, the Raiders head to Helena, Mont., to face fourth-ranked Frontier Conference opponent Carroll College.

On Sept. 6 in Ashland, then-No. 22 Southern Oregon upset No. 2 Carroll, 38-35, with a potent running game and gritty defense.

The Raiders will have their eyes on the prize while preparing for the challenge, Altenbach said.

“It’s starts on Monday. We prepare to do our best and learn what they’re trying to do on the offensive side of the ball,” he said. “We make sure that we’re getting better every single day and every single week and focusing on it one week at a time.”

Reach freelance reporter Sam Wheeler at samuelcwheeler@gmail.com.

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Southern Oregon's Trevor Jones celebrates after a fumble recovery in the first half. MAIL TRIBUNE / JAMIE LUSCH
Southern Oregon's Joseph Lealofi, left, and Mason Alfaro go for a fumble recovery in the second quarter against Montana Western on Saturday in Ashland. MAIL TRIBUNE / JAMIE LUSCH