Raiders state case with big victory
LA GRANDE — The eighth-ranked Southern Oregon University football team slept soundly Saturday night, knowing its place in the NAIA Championship Series field is safe.
A healthy, 48-37 defeat of Eastern Oregon at Community Stadium made that all but official.
Riding two overpowering opening quarters, the Raiders (8-2, 8-2 Frontier) led by multiple scores for most of the day and all of the second half in a convincing victory, one week after their postseason aspirations were left in doubt by sixth-ranked Montana Tech's upset of them in Ashland.
Montana Tech wrapped up the Frontier title outright with a 24-17 win over 10th-ranked Montana Western, securing the conference's automatic bid to the NAIA Championship Series.
SOU is expected to receive an at-large berth when the 16-team field is announced today, and is in line to host the first round next Saturday if it remains in the top eight. The Raiders are more likely to move up than down in the rankings courtesy of No. 4 Doane (Neb.)'s 55-7 loss at No. 1 Morningside (Iowa).
On Saturday, SOU dominated the Mountaineers (4-7, 4-6) in all facets to take a 31-10 lead into halftime. Taking advantage of holes all over the line, Melvin Mason rushed 16 times for 91 yards and scored all three of his touchdowns in the first half on plays of 18, 12 and 2 yards.
The Raiders cashed in on five of their six drives in the first half, when Tanner Trosin completed 15 of 19 passes. He was 23 of 21 for 215 yards in the game, including an 18-yard leaping TD connection with Matt Retzlaff that made it 14-0 midway through the first quarter. Trosin also ran 11 times for 82 yards and a 7-yard score in the third.
Retzlaff caught seven passes for 74 yards, and Teran Togia caught five for 82.
Retzlaff was among those on the special teams unit who provided the Raiders with field position that took the wind out of EOU's sails early. Each of their first four returns went for 30-plus yards, and Retlzaff's first two totaled 86.
Jaylenn Hart capped a workmanlike performance by the Raider defense with a 24-yard fumble return for a touchdown — SOU's fourth in its last four games — that Isiah Carter forced out of Alonzo Mendoza's hands, making it 45-23 with 6:43 remaining.
Hart also broke up four passes, and Carter matched Julius Rucker and Mylz Blake with eight tackles.
Marcus Montana made both of his field-goal attempts — a 36-yarder on the final play of the first half and a 30-yarder at the 3:38 mark in the fourth.
Keegan Lawrence added 59 yards on the ground on 10 tries. SOU wound up with 487 yards of offense (272 rushing) to Eastern's 431.
Mountaineers quarterback Zach Bartlow completed 20 of 41 passes for 228 yards and four TDs and rushed 19 times for 111 yards and one TD.
The previous four matchups between the Raiders and Mountaineers had each been decided by four points or less. Saturday's meeting was the 70th in series history and the Raiders' 51st win. SOU has won five straight here.
The latest result gave the Raiders a season sweep of the Mountaineers and a chance to defend their NAIA title. Today's anticipated announcement means the Raiders will make the NAIA FCS field for the second straight year and the fifth time since the NAIA merged divisions I and II in 1997.