SOU's Beach off to blazing start

Deflecting the question about as effortlessly as he fakes out defensive backs, Vance Beach on Thursday wasn't about to provide locker room material to Menlo.

When asked if there's an NAIA cornerback in the nation who can cover him, Beach smiled broadly, shrugged his shoulders and said, "I'm just trying to get open."

Don't let Beach's quick-out fool you.

The ultra-quick, super-athletic wide receiver is well on his way to the monster senior season that the Raiders were hoping for. Through three games Beach ranks sixth in the nation in receiving yards per game (120), is tied for 15th in receptions (19) and is ninth in total receiving yards (361). He'll be a key figure in SOU's offensive game plan again Saturday, when the Raiders (2-1) host Menlo (2-1) in a crucial week 4 showdown between NAIA independents.

Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. at Raider Stadium.

Beach is coming off an eight-catch, 187-yard explosion against Willamette, a performance that solidified his status as one of the NAIA's most dangerous targets. The game was Beach's third with new SOU quarterback Mike McDonald, who joined the team in the spring before winning a hard-fought battle for the starting quarterback job.

The two are already playing like they've been teammates for years.

"You know, me and (Beach) do have a little bit of a special chemistry," said McDonald, who thanks in part to Beach ranks fifth in the country in passing yards per game (287). "Throughout plays, even in practice but mostly in games, we'll look at each other and he's got this look on his face like, 'I'm going to run this route a little bit differently but I'm going to be in the same area when you throw the ball.' Sometimes he puts a little sugar on the end of his routes, and the next thing you know he's open."

That improvisational style happens to fit perfectly with McDonald, whose scrambling ability helped him beat out last year's starting quarterback, Paul Sweeney.

"I like that," McDonald said of Beach's ability to adapt on the fly. "I'm one of those guys that, if I don't see anything happening I'm not going to throw the ball away real quick, so I try to make stuff happen. He kind of does that same thing down the field, so we kind of work well together."

Beach also likes the chemistry the two have developed, even if it doesn't always result in a ball being thrown his way.

"(McDonald) finds anybody that's open," Beach said. "He runs around, he scrambles, he's going to make a play. So, if they're keying on me that's a mistake because somebody else is going to get open.

"He's like a cross country runner out there." Beach added with a laugh. "He makes me tired. It definitely helps us out a lot. If a play is broken, he can make something happen."

The Raiders on Saturday will be trying to make something happen against a Menlo team that's also coming off a loss. The Oaks fell 42-13 to Humboldt State, while SOU took a 42-24 loss to Willamette.

According to Southern Oregon head coach Steve Helminiak, the Oaks are led by a formidable defensive line that has the potential to put pressure on McDonald.

Offensively, Menlo is led by quarterback Cruz Castillo and running back Payton Bell. Castillo has thrown for 475 yards with five touchdowns and one interception in three starts, while Bell has rushed for 327 yards and three TDs.

"I think their defensive line is definitely their strong suit," Helminiak said. "Their two defensive ends are pretty good players. They run well to the ball, they're big and strong, they've got good pass-rushing moves and they do a lot of stunts, so they're going to present some problems. But, I think we can catch them in some things as well."

Beach is confident that the Raiders will be ready.

"I know they've got guys that are willing to go hard throughout the whole play," he said of Menlo. "I know that they're going to come hard and they're going to be ready to play, so we've got to bring the same intensity they're going to bring."

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