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SOU derails Pioneers

ASHLAND — In 30 seconds, eighth-ranked Southern Oregon showed exactly the type of character it has during Saturday’s opening round of the NAIA Championship Series at Raider Stadium.

After opening the game in blistering fashion with a 17-3 lead through one quarter of play against No. 9 MidAmerica Nazarene of Olathe, Kan., Southern Oregon suddenly found itself tied with the Pioneers after the visitors had pulled off a trick double pass for a touchdown with 30 seconds remaining in the first half.

The Raiders had already been penalized for roughing the kicker to set up one MidAmerica Nazarene scoring drive. SOU had also seen a potential scoring drive negated on a tipped ball interception in the end zone, and another set back by holding penalties that led to a partially blocked 33-yard field goal attempt by Aldrick Rosas.

Needless to say, very little was going right for the Raiders at the time of the first half’s final kickoff.

In those next moments, however, SOU showed the mark of a champion and used that moxie to carry itself to a 44-26 victory, much to the delight of the 2,425 on hand.

With All-American senior quarterback Austin Dodge guiding the way, the Raiders marched 55 yards in exactly 29 seconds thanks to consecutive receptions by Matt Retzlaff, Jeremy Scottow and Ryan Retzlaff. Given a chance to send his team into the locker room on a positive note, Rosas responded with a pure 32-yard field goal made possible by a quick reacting Scottow on the hold following a high snap.

“Getting the field goal right before the half was a huge play,” said SOU head coach Craig Howard. “Our dobber was down a little bit because we had the game in hand and they had tied the game 17-17 and all of a sudden we don’t have it in hand. The snap was a little high but Jeremy Scottow had a beautiful hold on the play and Rosas was perfect.”

The fact that the Raiders (10-2) had the nerve and the wherewithal to accomplish such a key drive was a tip of the hat to Howard’s mindset that so energizes his squad.

“With 30 seconds to go, you’d think most teams would be done and going into halftime,” said the fourth-year head coach. “Even the officials asked if we were taking a knee and we were like, ‘Heck no, we’re going for it.’ Dodge did a great job of managing the ball and getting it into field goal range and all of a sudden we’ve got a field goal and are ahead by three.”

An incredible 9-yard scoring pass from Dodge to Matt Retzlaff extended SOU’s lead to 27-17 in the third quarter — with the sophomore not to be denied as he took flight from the 5-yard line when defenders closed in.

After a stellar goal line stand by SOU’s defense, spearheaded by David Weider and Dustin Fretwell, limited the Pioneers (9-2) to a field goal to make it 27-20, the Raiders ultimately broke the game open in a five-minute span.

A step off all night, Dodge and senior standout Dylan Young finally connected for a 47-yard touchdown to open the fourth quarter. The TD reception was Young’s 18th of the season and 29th of his career to break a tie with Martin Turner, who previously established the career Raider record in 1983.

“That’s a big-time situation and a big-time play by him,” Dodge said of Young’s concentration on the deep pass. “We weren’t connecting early, and my hat’s off to MidAmerica Nazarene because they have a strong defense, but eventually it started clicking in the end and it worked out for us.”

“That dude works so hard every day, congratulations to him on getting that record,” added Dodge, who completed 23 of 35 passes for 311 yards and three TDs. “When (Young) comes out on Saturdays, it really is all about his week’s preparation. He’s such a hard-worker and it shows on the field.”

Rosas then added a 21-yard field goal through sleety conditions and, soon after, SOU’s Blakelyn Birks tackled Pioneers punter Patrick Corrigan at the MidAmerica Nazarene 3-yard line after a bad snap. Dodge dashed in untouched on the next play and the game was essentially in the bag as the Raiders opened a 44-20 lead with 9:26 to play.

“They were tough, it took us a little while to figure them out,” said SOU senior linebacker Laurence Calcagno, who had a team-high 15 tackles. “They had a really fast, shifty running back (in Javon Taylor) and it was difficult but as the game went on we figured out how to get there and beat them to the edge. The D-line played awesome and it made it a lot easier for us to shut them down.”

Two of MidAmerica Nazarene’s touchdowns came on trick plays, with receiver Wesley Foryoh tossing one in the second quarter and catching one from receiver Deron Kirkwood with 7:04 to play for the final tally.

Overall, SOU limited the Pioneers to 342 total yards, including 126 on 21 carries by Taylor, and came up with three sacks. Heston Altenbach had 13 tackles, Julius Rucker added eight and SOU got seven apiece from Isiah Carter and Daniel Abernethy.

J.J. Latu’s 85 yard kickoff return for a touchdown highlighted the opening quarter, along with a leaping 17-yard TD reception by Ryan Retzlaff, who finished with eight catches for 137 yards. Matt Retzlaff had six receptions for 63 yards and Young had three for 58, while Sean Tow led the rushing attack with 124 yards on 13 carries to complement some hard first-half running by Melvin Mason.

Dodge broke the NAIA record for career completions with his fifth of the night and is up to 1,169 entering next Saturday’s quarterfinals against familiar foe, Carroll College. The Frontier Conference foes split their regular season series, and the Saints have long been a thorn in SOU’s side when it comes to the playoffs. Carroll College eliminated SOU in the 2001 and ‘02 quarterfinals.

“It’s a Frontier Conference battle royal,” said Howard. “We beat them by three in Ashland (38-35), they beat us by two up there (42-40) when we were down by 15 with four minutes to go. We expect another classic game, it’s going to be awesome.”

MidAmerica Nazarene; 3; 14; 3; 6; —; 26

Southern Oregon; 17; 3; 7; 17; —; 44

SOU — FG Rosas 32

SOU — R. Retzlaff 17 pass from Dodge (Rosas kick)

MNU — FG Casillas 36

SOU — Latu 85 kickoff return (Rosas kick)

MNU — Taylor 1 run (Casillas kick)

MNU — Meyers 25 pass from Foryoh (Casillas kick)

SOU — FG Rosas 32

SOU — M. Retzlaff 9 pass from Dodge (Rosas kick)

MNU — FG Casillas 19

SOU — Young 47 pass from Dodge (Rosas kick)

SOU — FG Rosas 21

SOU — Dodge 3 run (Rosas kick)

MNU — Foryoh 17 pass from Kirkwood (pass failed)

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

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Southern Oregon University quarterback Austin Dodge passes during the NAIA Championship playoff game at Raider Stadium on Saturday. PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH, JR.
Southern Oregon University's Ryan Retzlaff stiff arms defender DeRahn Williams during the NAIA Championship playoff game at Raider Stadium on Saturday. PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH, JR.