Through its first two games of the 2018 season, the Southern Oregon football team might not be the fun-and-gun offense of yesteryear, but it’s certainly putting more emphasis on the run.
And with somebody like Rey Vega to hand the ball to, it’s not like that’s a bad option.
Vega hit triple digits for the second time in as many weeks, rushing for 158 yards on 24 carries and a pair of touchdowns — including the game-clinching score with five minutes to go — in No. 4-ranked Southern Oregon’s 35-28 win over The College of Idaho at Raider Stadium Saturday.
“He’s in his third year in the offense, and it shows just how comfortable and how confident he is running,” SOU head coach Charlie Hall said of Vega, a senior from Modesto, California. “What he did in the offseason and what he did in the spring when he ran track, his speed is really impressive, and I think that’s what really has set him apart.”
While the Raiders never trailed in their second straight Frontier Conference win to open the year, SOU (2-0 overall, 2-0 Frontier) got all it could handle from a College of Idaho squad aiming to dig itself out of an 0-2 hole.
The Raiders’ biggest lead of the day came thanks to arguably the biggest momentum swing in the second half.
All of two plays after SOU defensive back Xavier Smith picked off C of I quarterback Darius-James Peterson with a diving interception, Vega put the Raiders up 35-21 on a 22-yard touchdown run off left tackle.
“The whole game we were going back and forth and we were trying to get that momentum swing,” said Vega, who became the ninth SOU player to score 20 rushing touchdowns in his career with his fourth-quarter TD. “The play, in particular, once we scored, it just took a lot of stress off our backs and it felt like we had it in the bag and we could chillax a little bit. When we did that, it was definitely a stress reliever, for sure.”
Vega spearheaded an SOU rushing attack that finished with 251 yards. Raiders quarterback Wyatt Hutchinson recorded 174 yards of total offense (141 passing, 33 rushing) and scored on a 14-yard run 5:38 before halftime that gave SOU its first two-possession lead of the day at 21-7.
Hutchinson, who connected on eight of his first 10 passes, was 17 of 27 through the air with a pair of picks, both by Yotes defensive back Jayden Dawson.
Quaderius Clemmons also scored a touchdown on the ground, a 23-yard run on the first play of the second quarter that broke a 7-7 deadlock.
“Coach Foz (offensive coordinator Ken Fasnacht) was saying at the beginning of the summer that we don’t have a Tanner Trosin (at quarterback), so he put together a lot of good packages so we could have a good run game,” Vega said. “It showed today. Our passes weren’t hitting as we wanted them to, but luckily our run game was reliable and got us that win today.”
Hall’s gut feeling was that the Raiders were going to get all they could handle from a Yotes team that has now started the last two seasons 0-3.
Nearly every time SOU pushed its lead to double digits, C of I was there to respond.
It wasn’t nearly as suffocating of a second half for the Raiders’ defense as it was a week ago against Eastern Oregon, but they played the bend-but-don’t-break theme perfectly.
“That’s what we were preaching all day on defense — especially in the second half when (College of Idaho) started to get big plays,” said SOU freshman linebacker Jake Regino said. “It was just bend but don’t break. We came together and just finished it out.”
Peterson, who returned to the lineup after missing last Saturday’s loss to Montana Tech due to illness, rushed for 44 yards and threw for 114.
The Raiders, however, sacked Peterson five times on the day — two by senior Sean Rogers and one each by Regino, Nick Kernaghan and Medford product Tre Holmes.
“We just didn’t come out here with the right mindset, but once we started to make plays our energy started picking back up,” said Regino, who also had five tackles. “Our defense started showing up and we started playing like we really know how.”
SOU, which has won all 12 regular season games since Hall became coach, hosts Montana Tech next Saturday.
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper