Raiders rally to shock Mountaineers
ASHLAND — Eastern Oregon's recent ownership of the Southern Oregon University football team at Raider Stadium continued for almost three quarters on Saturday afternoon.
The Raiders spent the final 15-plus minutes performing an exorcism of historic proportions in a stunning 38-35 victory.
Freshman kicker Marcus Montano's 27-yard field goal that divided the uprights with four seconds remaining turned SOU's greatest second-half comeback in 17 years into its greatest second-half comeback win in even longer.
“We won’t forget about this one for a long time,” SOU head coach Craig Howard said. “I was so proud of them.”
The top-ranked Raiders (1-1, 1-1 Frontier Conference) trailed the No. 13 Mountaineers (0-3, 0-2) 35-14 before Tanner Trosin's 10-yard quarterback draw for a touchdown with nine seconds left in the third quarter became the first piece of their redemption.
The last time the Raiders pulled off such a comeback was Oct. 31, 1998, at Simon Fraser. They trailed that game 30-7 before outscoring the Clan 30-7 in the fourth quarter to force overtime, where they lost 43-37.
The game was SOU's first of the season in Ashland, where the Raiders had gone 16-2 over the previous four seasons since Howard's arrival. EOU was responsible for both losses — 31-27 last season and 38-37 in 2013.
“It’s a big win for us and a tough loss for our opponent,” Howard said.
Trosin, a junior transfer who began the game in a backup role, had a large hand in the turn of fortune, rushing 14 times for 116 yards and three TDs and also completing 17 of 20 passes for 173 yards. He led the Raiders to scores on their final four drives on a day when they went their first four possessions without one.
“He came in and really sparked our team,” Howard said. “Tanner had the hot day today and he was playing lights out.”
Even larger was the sudden urgency with which the Raider defense played, allowing EOU to travel a combined 10 yards and achieve one first down on its last three possessions. In the six Mountaineer possessions that preceded those, they found the end zone five times.
“It was a very opportunistic time for them to play their best defense,” Howard said.
EOU running back Jace Billingsley, a familiar Raider Stadium villain, had SOU on life support all day again with 19 rushes for 131 yards and seven catches for 107. Of those 238 yards, however, he gained 209 in the first half.
Billingsley — who last year netted 245 rushing yards at Raider Stadium, and the year before tossed the game-winning receiver-pass with1:53 left — was helped offensively by Zach Bartlow, who completed 17 of 25 passes for 218 yards and a TD and rushed 13 times for 81 yards.
“I’m glad he’s a senior,” Howard said of Billingsley.
Trailing 14-0 after a 6-yard Bartlow TD run, the Raiders scored twice in the final 1:46 of the first half to enter halftime down only 21-14 — first on Melvin Mason's 1-yard TD dive, and then on Trosin's 4-yard draw. Matt Retzlaff had key receptions of 37 yards and 32 yards that twice gave the Raiders first-and-goal.
EOU began the second half with a 75-yard march that Billingsley concluded with an 8-yard TD run. The Raiders later looked toasted when, at EOU's 30-yard line, Austin Brown forced a fumble by Mason and Jared Jensen recovered and returned it 44 yards. Bartlow found a wide open TJ Esekielu for a 24-yard TD on the very next play, making it 35-14 with 4:39 left in third.
On their next four drives, the Raiders would travel 80, 69, 73 and 74 yards. They ran on 28 of 41 plays from scrimmage during those possessions, during which Keegan Lawrence picked up all 54 of his yards on 11 carries.
Trosin's third rushing TD made it 35-28 with 10:15 left, and Mason's second TD tied it at the 3:24 mark. EOU's ensuing possession reached the SOU 44-yard line but no farther; Deacon Starr dropped a third-down pass that would've taken the Mountaineers to SOU's 15 with 1:14 left.
Four straight Trosin completions — the last two for 20 yards to Adonis Griffin and a diving 32-yarder by Retzlaff over the middle — and two Trosin rushes took the Raiders 74 yards in 1:01 to set up Montano's heroics. Montano has connected on three straight field-goal chances to start the season.
“They tried to ice him with a timeout but he nailed it,” Howard said. “(The team) was ready to celebrate like we had just won the national championship game after that.”
Retzlaff caught five passes for 109 yards, and Teran Togia had career highs of eight catches and 52 yards.
Nine Raiders made at least one catch, and Mason finished with 56 yards on 15 carries.
Defensively, Joseph Lealofi had nine tackles (six solo), half a sack and a QB hurry. Isiah Carter made eight tackles.
The Raiders travel next week to College of Idaho (1-2).