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Takeaways spur SOU to victory over Bears

ASHLAND — Rocky Mountain quarterback Bryce Baker is used to having his way with the Southern Oregon defense.

And while his 420 passing yards Saturday at Raider Stadium did little to negate that notion, three first-half interceptions created a margin of error no one is currently afforded against Southern Oregon.

Austin Dodge threw four first-half touchdowns, Sean Tow rushed for 155 yards and two scores and the fifth-ranked Raiders scored a resume-building 45-28 win over the No. 21 Battlin’ Bears, running their record to 8-1 overall and 7-1 in the Frontier Conference to remain tied with No. 2 Carroll in first place.

SOU has won its last six games at home against ranked opponents.

Rocky Mountain (5-4, 4-4) had been the only team the Raiders had yet to defeat since joining the Frontier in 2012. On the field, anyway. Last year’s 35-30 win for the Bears was later forfeited.

“I was pleased with our players,” said Raider coach Craig Howard. “The seniors hadn’t beaten those guys, so we were a highly motivated football team. The quest of our seniors was to not graduate without beating Rocky Mountain.

“Our players were excited. It was a big deal to beat them. We’re ranked fifth in the country, and by winning, we’ll stay at least fifth. The boys know that. So it was a big game for us and we responded in all three phases: offense, defense and the kicking game. The energy level and effort level for our players was extremely high.”

Baker was the foremost reason for SOU’s struggles against the Bears. In the two previous games, he threw for 1,027 yards and eight TDs.

He got the Rocky offense rolling again Saturday but couldn’t finish several drives: first getting intercepted by Nathan Torres-Walker at SOU’s 12-yard line, then by Jaylenn Hart at SOU’s 3, and lastly by Julius Rucker at SOU’s 8, all before halftime.

Dodge and the Raiders, meanwhile, came out firing for the second straight week. They turned five of their first six drives into touchdowns — in last Saturday’s win at College of Idaho it was each of the first six — and led 35-14 when Dodge completed a 91-yard pass that parachuted down into Dylan Young’s hands and left him with about 50 yards to run for a TD with 3:21 left in the first half.

“The defense sometimes doesn’t get enough credit and the offense gets too much credit around here, so it was great to see,” said Howard. “The three takeaways were huge in the first half. Anytime you get three or four turnovers, you’re going to win the game.”

Dodge was 21-for-32 for 350 yards, leading the Raiders to 611 total. They set the tone with their first drive, which was completed with a double-handoff and pitch to Dodge, who wound up and hit a wide-open Young in the end zone from 40 yards out.

Tow punched in the second TD with a 14-yard trip, and Dodge next threw a 40-yard TD to a streaking Ryan Retzlaff giving SOU a 21-6 edge at the start of the second quarter. Rocky Mountain was held to field goals on its first two drives, but Baker hit McCullouch for an 11-yard TD, making it 21-14.

Then Baker’s picks provided the Raiders with an open door.

They capitalized first with a five-play, 68-yard drive ending in Dodge’s 12-yard pass up the middle to Matt Retzlaff before Young’s 91-yard score brought them to halftime.

Tow, a shifty, 5-foot-6, 160-pound sophomore, was especially impressive.

“He made some unbelievable cuts,” said Howard. “He ran with real vision to make the kind of cuts he made. I told him after one of run that it was the best run all year. He made about four or five cutbacks on the play. I love to see smaller players playing small-college football and doing big-time things.”

Rocky Mountain came out of halftime and struck quickly, Baker finding McCullouch for 35 yards, but the Raiders answered with a 12-play drive ending in Tow’s 2-yard score. Another Baker TD pass to Ryan Toney made it a two-TD game in the fourth, 42-28, and Aldrick Rosas answered with a 22-yard field goal on the ensuing SOU drive.

Young only had four catches but they spanned 128 yards. Matt Retzlaff caught six balls for 64 yards, Ryan Retzlaff had three for 65 and McShane added three for 59.

Senior linebacker Heston Altenbach led the Raider defense with 14 tackles and a breakup, while Laurence Calcagno had 10 tackles and Hart added nine with his interception.

Baker passed 31 times in the first half and ended up 35-for-51, hitting McCullouch 10 times for 172 yards and Cole Cattelan seven times for 95.

The Bears, who had been 4-0 on the road, had 103 rushing yards compared to SOU’s 261. They also were just 3-for-12 on third-down conversions.

SOU next week visits Montana Tech, which dropped to 1-8 Saturday with a loss at Eastern Oregon.

Southern Oregon sophomore running back Sean Tow tries to fight off Rocky Mountain defender Corey Bummer in their Frontier Conference game Saturday at Raider Stadium. PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR.