ASHLAND — There were aspects to like and others that need some refining when it comes to the technical side of football, but there was no denying the enthusiasm and competitive fire that Southern Oregon University hopes to use as a foundation for the coming season during Friday’s annual Red and White Game at Raider Stadium.
Big hits, a handful of electrifying plays and the return to action of senior quarterback Tanner Trosin highlighted the controlled scrimmage on a crisp, rainy night that seemed more suited for late fall than a spring showcase.
“What I saw was a team that has a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm and they play hard,” said SOU head coach Charlie Hall, who replaced the late Craig Howard two months ago. “I came in here as a high school coach where your kids play both sides of the ball and coming into a collegiate situation where you kind of have the offense versus the defense. It gets very competitive and nobody wants to back down to anybody.”
“But at the end of the day, they really care about each other,” added Hall. “What coach Howard has done and the coaches here, they’ve created this culture where it’s highly competitive, they’re very driven but at the end of the day there’s a real tight-knit unit and that really makes you feel good.”
On a night where points were hard to come by, it was the defensive side of the ball that secured a 14-7 victory for the White team when A.J. Cooper intercepted a pass by Red team quarterback Sean Smith and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown with 3 minutes, 55 seconds to play.
“The (White) offense didn’t get the job done down there (after getting into the red zone) and the defense took responsibility,” said Hall. “A.J. said we’re going to score this drive on defense — he was telling the other secondary guys that — and the very next play he picked it off. There’s a confidence there that I Iike.”
Cooper is slated to be a third-year starter at cornerback for the Raiders, who went 5-5 in the Frontier Conference last year after two straight appearances — and one win — in the NAIA national championship game. Smith dropped back and was a little high and off the mark on a pass into the flat, and Cooper pounced on the opportunity and ran untouched into the end zone to the delight of his White team peers, who had a friendly back-and-forth with the Red team throughout the scrimmage.
On the first play of the White squad’s ensuing possession, Clayton Jones came up with another interception. After Marcus Montano missed a potential game-clinching 36-yard field goal for the White team, Smith again dialed up a long pass with time dwindling and was picked off by Keegan Lawrence for a game-clinching interception.
Smith finished 11-of-26 passing for 115 yards and led his team to a game-tying touchdown with his 24-yard connection to Louis Macklin with 5:50 to go in the third quarter.
“I felt bad for Sean,” said Hall. “It’s a tough situation for him as the backup quarterback. He’s still new to our program and our system and that’s a tough responsibility. We’re installing things at the pace of where Tanner and the rest of the first offense can compete at, and he’s having to learn on the fly and it’s pretty difficult for him. But I know he’ll get back in the film room and get better over the summer.”
Trosin was SOU’s starting QB in the 2015 NAIA title game as a junior but sustained a season-ending injury in the second game of 2016. After receiving a medical redshirt earlier this year, Trosin was just happy to be back competing at Raider Stadium on Friday.
“It’s a blessing to be out here,” said Trosin, who completed 10 of 24 passes for 229 yards, one TD and one interception. “I’m just thankful with the opportunity that I got this medical redshirt to come back and re-do my senior year.”
Trosin found Isaac Hurd for a 34-yard TD midway through the second quarter and, were it not for the protection reserved for the QBs that meant a tag equaled a tackle, Trosin might have added another TD on a scrambling run later in the quarter.
“I saw some things that he did athletically tonight that he hasn’t been able to do all spring,” said Hall. “We’ve kind of kept everybody hands off and he hasn’t run much. Today he had to run around and I was impressed. I’ve seen him on film and in games but, good grief, I saw him do some talented things. So he needs to stay healthy and we need to do a good job of keeping him that way. The line and the running backs are all part of that process.”
Devin Benjamin was the chief recipient of Trosin’s passes, hauling in a 48-yarder to help him accumulate 113 yards on four catches. Ben Bachman also had a 48-yard catch for the White team, while Matt Boudreaux and Brock Martin had two catches each.
Cam Daugherty carried seven times for 33 yards and promising newcomer Michael Roots added 26 yards on six carries for the White squad, which saw Lawrence post four tackles and Greg Baul add two sacks to help lead the charge.
“Our defense played a pretty good scrimmage,” said Trosin. “We have some things to work on on offense but we’ve still got a few months until the season starts and we’ll be all right.”
Prior to Cooper’s game-winning play, Jeret Musser picked off Trosin on the goal line to give the Red squad a chance at taking the lead. Sean Rogers registered 5½ tackles and two sacks to bolster the defense, which also saw Tyler Dean deliver some bell-ringing blows to go with his 3½ tackles.
Bronsen Ader caught four passes for 58 yards for the Red squad, while Caden Johnson and Austin May had two catches apiece.
“Both the sides, the Red team and the White team, we’re all friends and we all hang out so it was pretty high energy and very competitive today,” said Trosin. “The main thing is we just wanted to come out here and have fun. This being my last spring ball and everything, I was just coming out here with a positive attitude regardless of what happens and just have some fun, and I think everybody did that today.”
At halftime, SOU recognized the following players in their position groups as the most improved of the spring: Christmas Aumua (offensive lineman), Ben Bachman (tight end), Matt Boudreaux (wide receiver), Michael Roots (running back), Tanner Trosin (quarterback), Noah Johnson (defensive lineman), Stanford Toloke (linebacker), William Brown (cornerback) and Jeret Musser (safety).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry