It took until the final play of the first half for the Southern Oregon University football team to score its first touchdown Saturday afternoon.
Once the levee broke for the Raiders, it was hard to slow them down.
A dominant second half saw No. 3-ranked Southern Oregon only build on its 13-point halftime lead and pull away for a convincing 44-12 win over No. 23 Montana Tech in a showdown between Frontier Conference rivals at Raider Stadium.
“As a core unit, offense and defense, we just started clicking,” SOU quarterback Wyatt Hutchinson said. “We just preached coming out of halftime that it’s a 0-0 ballgame, it’s a completely new game and we have to bring the same intensity as the first half.”
The Raiders’ 100th win in the history of Raider Stadium, one that saw nearly 2,500 spectators in attendance, was certainly a sweet one.
It was reminiscent of the Raiders’ season-opening win against Eastern Oregon in La Grande, one in which they outscored the Mountaineers 25-3 in the second half.
Two Saturdays later, the Raiders outscored the Orediggers 28-9 after the break, handing Montana Tech its most lopsided loss in four years.
“Once our kids rode that wave, they weren’t going to let go of it,” SOU head coach Charlie Hall said. “We didn’t really like the way we played last week, so we sort of challenged them. It’s a very emotional week and that’s what you hope from a game like this where when you need to have that surge of energy, maybe the Dedication Week kicks in.”
During Dedication Week, players play in honor of someone of their choosing.
SOU has yet to trail for a single second in its two home games this season. And thanks to three short field goals by Marcus Montano, the Raiders held a 9-3 lead with just under six minutes to go before halftime.
Those three first-half field goals were part of a banner day for SOU special teams, as Montano teamed with punter Jaxon Clark — who averaged over 52 yards a boot and routinely flipped the field position on Montana Tech — to make it a standout day in all three phases.
“What (Clark) did to put Montana Tech’s back to the goal line in so many situations, flipping the field 40 yards at a time, that’s tough for an offense,” Hall said.
With four seconds left in the first half, the Raiders got the touchdown that had eluded them in the first five drives of the game. Hutchinson delivered a 23-yard strike to wideout Bronsen Ader to put SOU ahead 16-3.
Montana Tech (2-1, 2-1) cut the Southern Oregon lead to 16-12 within the first eight minutes of the second half on a 24-yard Tyler Padilla field goal and then a 20-yard Trevor Hoffman touchdown catch from quarterback Tanner Kump.
That proved to be as close as the Diggers got.
SOU took advantage of prime field position following a bad Montana Tech punt, punctuating the drive on Rey Vega’s 1-yard touchdown run that made it a double-digit lead again at 23-12.
The Diggers muffed the ensuing kickoff, giving the Raiders prime field position once again. And SOU made Montana Tech pay all of 14 seconds later, as it was wideout-to-wideout with Isaac Hurd throwing to Jason Shelley for a 20-yard reverse pass.
Quaderius Clemmons, who rushed for 121 yards on the day in relief of Vega as he shook off a first-half injury, put the exclamation point on the Raiders’ big second half with a 60-yard touchdown run right up the middle.
The Raiders didn’t miss a beat even though some of their biggest names — Vega, linebacker Devvon Gage and defensive end Sean Rogers — battled injuries throughout the game.
“It’s not like high school where you lose that really, really big player and it’s a big drop off,” Hall said. “You just sort of trust the process. Wyatt was able to do some things on his own and got his first touchdown in the air (this season). Devvon is just incredible and I never would have thought he’d be able to play just knowing what he did this week and how limited that he was. It just shows you about his toughness, how much he cares for the team and what kind of leader he is.”
Hall knew coming in that Montana Tech was going to be both a confident and physical bunch knowing that the Diggers had just cracked the national rankings earlier in the week and were off to their own 2-0 start.
As it turned out, it was the Raiders who not only matched the Diggers’ physicality but also limited their opposition to 88 rushing yards and forced three turnovers (two interceptions, one fumble recovery).
The Raiders limited Diggers running back Jed Fike, who was averaging nearly a 150 yards per game the first two weeks of the season, to just 67 yards on the ground on 19 carries.
“Just trying to find 7 (Kump) as a defense and keep the momentum going,” said SOU defensive end Tre Forrest, who had seven tackles and both of SOU’s sacks on the day. “You never really want to get too far looking at the scoreboard, you just want to stay humble and grounded and play every play.”
The Raiders have now won 13 straight regular-season games and will head out on the road next week to face Carroll College (3-1, 2-1).
“It feels good,” Hutchinson said of sweeping the Raiders’ back-to-back home games. “We have a great support system here. It’s a special atmosphere out here, so we’ve got a lot of support and we try to use that as a fire for us as a unit.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.