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SOU stuns top-ranked Carroll

HELENA, Mont. — The greatest win in Southern Oregon University football history would have been the type to send chills up the spine had they not already been there due to below-zero temperatures and blizzard-like conditions Saturday at Nelson Stadium.

SOU defeated the top-ranked Carroll Saints, 45-42, by scoring touchdowns on all five of its second-half drives in the NAIA Championship Series quarterfinals — the last score being Melvin Mason’s game-winning 1-yard plow with 22 seconds to spare.

“I’m very, very proud of these guys,” SOU head coach Craig Howard said. “They never quit. I told them that when the game was over, there should be no regrets. They battled. At no point in time did any man on that squad not believe we could win.”

The type of heartbreak and jubilation produced has become commonplace in the rivalry, which dates back to when Carroll pulled off a 16-13 win in the final seconds of the 2001 quarterfinals. In the next year’s quarters, at Carroll, the Raiders brought a 31-14 lead into the fourth quarter but lost 35-31.

The previous matchups between SOU (11-2) and Carroll (10-2) this season went 38-35 in favor of SOU and 42-40 in favor of Carroll.

In this edition it was the Raiders who trailed 35-18 heading into the final quarter and pulled off the comeback. They’ll be a part of the NAIA semifinals for the first time in program history — they were previously 0-4 in the quarterfinal round — traveling to Chicago to face Saint Xavier (Ill.) next Saturday.

“We’re going where we’ve never gone before,” Howard said. “It’s going to be one heck of a football game.”

Despite steady snowfall and a field that wore a white blanket for the duration of the afternoon, Austin Dodge completed 31 of 45 passes for 470 yards and three touchdowns. Ryan Retzlaff made 13 catches for 175 yards, Dylan Young caught five for 106 and Matt Retzlaff caught six for 103.

Mason’s four TDs were one short of tying an NAIA Championship Series record, while Sean Tow kept the ball moving with 114 yards on 20 carries.

“(That game) proves why he is the best quarterback in the history of the NAIA and Southern Oregon,” Howard said of Dodge.

The Raider offense totaled 660 yards to Carroll’s 453, and the Raider defense found its footing just in time with three-and-out stops on Carroll’s first two fourth-quarter possessions and a David Weider sack that doomed the Saints’ last chance.

The Saints had their final lead, 42-39, when quarterback Mac Roche ran in a 5-yard score with 1:53 remaining.

They never trailed through the first 55 minutes, staking a 28-12 halftime advantage as Roche dissected the defense. He completed 13 of 16 first-half passes and ended up 21-for-28 with 287 yards, while All-American Dustin Rinker rushed 28 times for 163 yards and two first-half TDs.

Meanwhile, SOU’s offense took the ball into Saints territory on all six of its first-half drives but failed to finish four of them. That changed immediately in the second half.

Following a stop on Carroll’s first drive of the third quarter, Dodge capped an 80-yard march with a bullet to Young on fourth-and-goal from 10 yards out. Carroll answered, making it 35-18 on a Roche 11-yarder to Dylan Simac, but Dodge got right back to work in the form of a 43-yard bomb that hit Young in the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter.

SOU maintained momentum on Carroll’s ensuing possession with three straight stops of Rinker, the last on third-and-one. A 15-play, 80-yard gem of a drive followed, capped by a 6-yard Mason plunge to cut Carroll’s lead, 35-33.

The Saint offense was stunted next on a sack by Daniel Breaux and Isiah Carter, making way for SOU to take its first lead.

The Raiders finally went ahead with 4:38 left on the prettiest play of the day — a 36-yard liner from Dodge to Sean McShane, who overcame pass interference and made the grab while falling backward in the end zone.

“That was one of the greatest catches I have ever seen in my career,” Howard said.

Trailing 39-35, the Saints went to work. Roche completed 5 of 6 passes and ran in for a TD himself to end a 69-yard trek and provide Carroll with some temporary joy.

The 1:53 given to the Raider offense proved to be far too much, however. Dodge’s 30-yard completion to Young promptly got SOU to Carroll’s 34-yard line, and subsequent completions to both Retzlaff brothers set Mason up 2 yards away. On his second try, he got in, and the celebration was nearly on.

SOU had never previously won at Carroll, much less defeated a top-ranked team.

Breaux totaled nine tackles and 1.5 sacks to earn Defensive Player of the Game honors. Carter added nine more tackles, while Heston Altenbach, Julius Rucker and Laurence Calcagno had six apiece.

Now it’s on to third-ranked Saint Xavier, which was a 30-17 winner against Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) in its quarterfinal and in the first round took out Campbellsville (Ky.), 38-35. The Cougars were co-champions in the Mid-States Midwest Conference.

Marian (Ind.) and Morningside (Iowa) will meet in the other semifinal. Marian advanced by defeating defending champion Grand View (Iowa), 34-6, and Morningside was a 56-28 victor against Missouri Valley.