SOU erases 20-point deficit for win over Carroll College
ASHLAND — For the better part of three quarters, Southern Oregon’s offense was in a rut and showed few signs of getting out of it.
Then the fourth quarter arrived, and the doors didn’t just open. Instead, the Raiders kicked them down and stormed right on through.
Playing in its first home football game in nearly two years, Southern Oregon roared back from a 27-7 fourth-quarter deficit, scoring 20 unanswered points in the span of seven minutes to capture a stunning 34-33 win over Carroll College at Raider Stadium.
The final touchdown, with 37 seconds to play, came courtesy of quarterback Matt Struck, who connected with receiver Bryce Goggin in the front corner of the end zone for a 12-yard TD pass.
“We never really had that mentality that we were done and out,” said Struck, a former Crater standout playing his first game in the Rogue Valley since his senior year of high school. “We just kept saying we need to find that spark, find that spark. I don’t know what it was ... but we sparked it, the defense came up big like they’d been doing the whole game and we capitalized.”
The fourth-quarter comeback was directed by Struck, who shook off three interceptions in the first three quarters to record 278 of his 318 passing yards in the final period. All four of his touchdown passes came in the fourth quarter, with Goggin catching the final two with less than four minutes to go.
“They just let us loose,” said Goggin, who finished with 10 catches — eight of which were in the fourth quarter — for 131 yards. “We were a little reserved (in the first half), we kind of just wanted to stick to our game plan. When we finally realized it wasn’t doing the best for us, we decided to open it up more and let loose.”
The win, SOU’s first at home since Oct. 12, 2019, improved the Raiders’ record to 2-2 overall and in the Frontier Conference.
It’s a result that head coach Charlie Hall, while still trying to catch his breath after the game, can certainly appreciate knowing what the first month of the season has been like for his team.
“We’re a very young team, we’re still trying to find ourselves,” Hall said. “We’re riding a little bit of this roller coaster right now — we didn’t start off well, came back with a great game against Montana State-Northern, struggled last week, obviously, and struggled again today but came back. Hopefully this is the momentum we need and maybe things will click going forward.”
Carroll (1-3, 1-3) took a 27-7 lead with 12 1/2 minutes to go in the game on Duncan Kraft’s 3-yard touchdown run.
Up until that point, the Raiders’ offense was struggling mightily. They had recorded 105 yards of total offense and had just as many punts (7) as they did first downs.
But the ball started rolling the very next possession after Kraft’s touchdown, as Struck connected with receiver Ben Graziani for a 65-yard touchdown down the Saints sideline.
Carroll responded to momentarily go ahead 33-14 on Kraft’s 66-yard touchdown run right through the heart of the Raiders’ defense.
But after that, SOU’s defense held firm, allowing the comeback to fully take flight.
“All of the defensive captains came up to me throughout the game and said, ‘We got you guys, we got you guys. We’re never out of it, we got you,’” Struck said. “We believed them and we started doing our thing and it kept on clicking and rolling from there.”
Indeed it did.
SOU cut the deficit to 33-21 when Struck threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to receiver Shane McLaughlin. After forcing Carroll to punt, the Raiders marched right down the field again, with Struck and Goggin connecting for a 32-yard TD pass.
Another Carroll punt gave the Raiders the ball back with just under 3 1/2 minutes left. Struck, just like the possession before, drove the Raiders down the field in 10 plays, capping it off with his final TD pass of the day.
Carroll had one last chance to try and win but SOU’s defense came up big again, finishing the game with a walk-off sack by defensive lineman Jon’Mae Wafford.
“Credit to the guys for making the adjustments. It’s a 60-minute game, thank God,” Hall said, adding how his team was able to hold Carroll to a couple of field goals in the game. “We used all three phases to get back in the game and win a football game at home.”
Despite the wild comeback, it was actually SOU that got the first points of the game, taking advantage of a great punt return by Stokes Botelho to the Carroll 5-yard line. Running back Avery McClurg punched it in from there on a 4-yard TD run.
McClurg carried the ball 13 times for 62 yards, while Graziani had five catches for 88 yards.
Kraft finished with 145 yards on 21 carries and a pair of touchdowns. Carroll quarterback Jack Prka went 23-for-38 for 262 yards and two first-half touchdowns, helping the Saints build a 17-7 lead going into halftime.
The Raiders, however, recorded just 69 yards of offense in the first half, struggling to do much of anything against a defense that Hall described as “a pretty challenging defense and you have to sift through some things against them.”
Until the fourth quarter, that is.
“Just keep believing, just keep believing. That’s all we can do and take it step by step,” Goggin said of the halftime message. “We never stopped believing. Until the clock hits zero, we’re still going. I believed in all of my guys, my guys believed in me and we did what we did.”
Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.