There will be no Frontier Conference title coming to Ashland for a second straight season. The Raiders, however, were able to get the back-to-back wins on their home turf they so desired to close out the 2018 season.
Flexing its muscle on both sides of the ball to set an early tone, Southern Oregon rolled to a 37-10 victory over No. 23-ranked Montana Western at Raider Stadium on Saturday afternoon, sending the Raiders’ 20 seniors out on a high note in their final collegiate game.
“For me, it meant the world,” SOU senior linebacker Tyson Cooper said. “It’s an indescribable feeling that I have right now because these guys are actually my brothers. This is family to me, so the fact that we could turn it around and go out on a winning culture as we are, it felt amazing.”
SOU sophomore quarterback Wyatt Hutchinson was again the driving force offensively as he surpassed the 300-yard mark through the air for the second straight game, going 21-for-41 for a career-high 339 yards and a touchdown.
The Raiders, who also ran for 208 yards as a team, recorded a season-high 547 yards of total offense, with well over half of it coming in the opening two quarters.
“We really just started trusting what we were being taught and started putting it all together,” said Hutchinson, who also ran for 55 yards in the game. “It’s sad that it happened so late (in the season), but it’s good to see the process paying off.”
With Rocky Mountain losing its regular-season finale earlier in the day, Montana Western could have clinched a share of the Frontier title with a win in Ashland.
Instead, the Bulldogs never really got going — much of that having to do with the Raiders taking control of the game before the first quarter was over.
When it was all said and done, Southern Oregon and Montana Western were one half of the four-team cluster that finished in a tie for second place in the conference standings with identical 6-4 records.
“This team, coming into the game, I had a good feeling about them,” SOU head coach Charlie Hall said. “We had some good moments with the seniors and I felt like they had the right energy and emotion to go out there and do good things early and not be conservative at all. Just let them go play and leave it out there for those seniors.”
Hall has been adamant that even throughout the Raiders’ four-game losing streak in October that nobody was packing it in.
And Saturday’s win was proof of that.
“You look back at the season, it’s bittersweet,” Hall said. “You look at what could have been and the way things have gone in our conference, maybe even two losses would have kept us relevant for any postseason opportunities. That’s out of your control, and at least there was a response where we care enough about what we’ve done, what we’re doing and the future.
“For us to stop the losing streak, do things better, send these seniors out as winners and have back-to-back winning games at home is really a good message for the program.”
The Raiders never trailed after driving right down the field on their game-opening drive, getting the first of senior running back Rey Vega’s three short touchdown runs to go up 7-0.
Montana Western’s first drive had the completely opposite kind of result. The SOU defense — which added six more sacks to its NAIA-leading total — forced a punt, then blocked said punt and turned things over to the offense again with prime field position. SOU didn’t wait long to double its lead, as Vega rushed it in from a yard out to make it 14-0 less than eight minutes in.
For an SOU team that has struggled in first quarters this season, it was a dream start.
“It was different, it was something different,” SOU wide receiver Bronsen Ader said with a grin. “Usually we go in and the first drive is usually a field goal or we go three-and-out, so the energy was high. I know everybody was doing it for the seniors, everybody was playing for the seniors, so I think that just the level of everybody’s play was for the seniors.”
Montana Western never cut the SOU lead to single digits after falling behind early, getting as close as 17-7 after Jon Jund’s 7-yard TD pass to Nate Simkins.
But the Bulldogs’ offense could only muster 285 total yards in the game — the first time the Raiders have held an opponent under 300 yards of total offense since Sept. 22, a 27-0 win at Carroll.
“It was perfect,” said Cooper, who had seven tackles in the win. “I feel like we’ve yet to have all three aspects of our game all click and feed off each other, so to see that finally get what we’ve been looking for the entire year, I think it was something special.”
Hutchinson’s lone TD pass of the day came all of 34 seconds after Western cut it to a 10-point game, connecting with wideout Jason Selley on a 74-yard strike down the SOU sideline.
Shelley, who caught three passes for 129 yards, was one of eight SOU receivers to catch a pass in the win. Ader had five receptions for 93 yards, while Vega added 36 yards receiving to the 65 yards he picked up on the ground to record 101 yards of total offense.
SOU senior kicker Marcus Montano hit three of the four field goals he attempted in the game, finishing with 50 for his career.
A sign of how efficient the Raiders’ offense was for much of the afternoon: Jaxon Clark didn’t attempt his first punt until midway through the third quarter.
SOU wanted to get its seniors one last win — and that’s exactly what happened.
“All these seniors, man, they’ve taught me everything and I can’t preach that enough,” Hutchinson said. “Sending these seniors out right is all I could think about the last couple of weeks — especially my dog Tyson Cooper, I’ve been playing with him since third grade. It’s only right to send them out with a win.”
Southern Oregon 37,
Montana Western 10
At Raider Stadium
SOU — Vega 1 run (Montano kick)
SOU — Vega 1 run (Montano kick)
SOU — Montano 25 field goal
UMW — Simkins 7 pass from Jund (Kharchenko kick)
SOU — Shelley 74 pass from Hutchinson (Montano kick)
UMW — Kharchenko 27 field goal
SOU — Montana 41 field goal
SOU — Vega 6 run (Montano kick)
SOU — Montano 38 field goal
MWU — Prante 12-85; Donisthrope 1-6; Christian 2-2; Miller 1-(-6); Jund 10-(-8); Kharchenko 1-(-11).
SOU — Vega 16-66; Hutchinson 6-55; May 6-48; Clemmons 7-25; Hurd 1-6; Ader 2-5; Cole 1-3; TM 1-0.
MWU — Jund 18-41-0 217.
SOU — Hutchinson 21-41-1 339; Maglente-Tonu 0-1-0 0.
MWU — McKitrick 5-83; Walser 7-49; Simkins 3-35; Prante 1-34; Messerly 2-16.
SOU — Shelley 3-129; Ader 5-93; Vega 4-36; Teo 3-23; Clemmons 2-23; Graney 2-13; Hurd 1-13; Randle 1-8.
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.