Southern Oregon University quarterback Bryan Lee-Lauduski stood in the center of the field for more than 30 minutes following the Raiders' season-opening football game against Montana Tech Saturday.
Lee-Lauduski was spectacular in his SOU debut, completing 30 of 46 passes for 298 yards and four touchdowns, but the performance went for naught as the visiting Orediggers held on for a 32-30 win.
Still, Lee-Lauduski saw a lot of good things from a Raider offense that looks vastly improved from a year ago.
"We can build on this," said Lee-Lauduski, a transfer from UC Davis who was seeing his first game action in nearly three years. "We made a lot of mistakes, but as anyone could see, we've got some playmakers out there.
"We're going to rack up a lot of yards and points before the season is over."
The Raiders, who suffered three turnovers, committed 17 penalties for 162 yards and botched two field goal attempts, looked like a beaten team after Montana Tech's Sean Kelly booted a 27-yard field goal with 4:28 left in the game that gave the Orediggers a 32-17 lead.
SOU's cause looked even more bleak when it went three-and-out on its next possession and punted the ball back to Montana Tech. But strong safety Jared Alarmo kept the Raiders on life support when he recovered a fumble by Montana Tech quarterback Justin Kegel at the Oredigger 31-yard line with less than three minutes remaining.
Lee-Lauduski immediately went to work. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound junior hit Tim Greenidge for a 14-yard gain and then found him again for a 17-yard touchdown pass with 1:50 left, cutting Montana Tech's lead to 32-24.
Placekicker Corey O'Neill then put down a perfectly-executed onside kick that SOU wide receiver Kevin Holtzman pounced on at the Raider 42.
Seven players later, Lee-Lauduski found Holtzman over the middle for an 18-yard touchdown pass that narrowed Montana Tech's advantage to 32-30 with 37.1 seconds left. With an SOU crowd of 1,000 on its feet, the same two players nearly hooked up again for what would have been a game-tying, two-point conversion. Holtzman, running a slant pattern over the middle, had the ball in his hands for an instant before Montana Tech safety Scott Gerken knocked it away.
"I had possession and was just starting to bring it in and he (Gerken) jarred it loose," Holtzman said.
Holtzman, a 6-2, 190-pound senior from Tigard, had a spectacular day with 13 catches for 159 yards and three touchdowns. He had only four TDs all of last season.
"We put pressure on them in the fourth quarter and never quit," Holtzman said. "It's frustrating to lose a game like this, but if we eliminate even half the mistakes we made, we win easily. The encouraging thing is, we moved the ball and got in the end zone, which we struggled to do last season."
However, Southern Oregon's offense sputtered early Saturday. On its third play from scrimmage, heralded transfer tailback Derrell Hutsona fumbled the ball away to Montana Tech's Billy Glennon after catching a screen pass.
The Orediggers took advantage, driving 38 yards for a touchdown on Kegel's 1-yard quarterback sneak to take an early 7-0 lead.
But SOU's swarming, blitzing defense, led by ends Will Watson and Anthony Scolamieri and linebackers Damario Watson and James Williams, shut down Montana Tech the rest of the half.
SOU's offense got untracked in the second quarter, but two potential field goals by O'Neill never materialized because of a bad snap on one play and a botched hold on another.
O'Neill finally put SOU on the board with a 25-yard field goal with 8:02 left in the first half, and on their next possession, the Raiders drove 65 yards in nine plays with Holtzman catching a 7-yard touchdown pass. The ball was batted into the air but Holtzman snagged it while lying on his back.
O'Neill's PAT kick gave SOU a 10-7 halftime lead, but Montana Tech went to a no-huddle offense in the third period and scored on consecutive possessions of 61 and 65 yards to take a 20-10 lead.
"They caught us off-guard with the no-huddle look," said Cole Watson, a 6-6, 260-pound transfer from Umpqua Community College who finished with eight tackles and 21/2 sacks in his Raider debut. "They changed up the tempo and put us on our heels."
Things went from bad to worse for the Raiders when Kyle McCall intercepted an overthrown Lee-Lauduski pass and returned it 41 yards up the sideline for a touchdown and a 26-10 Montana Tech lead.
But Lee-Lauduski quickly regrouped and led SOU on a 78-yard, seven-play march that ended on his perfectly-thrown 21-yard touchdown pass to Holtzman on a streak pattern.
Lee-Lauduski and Holtzman looked as though they'd been on the field for several years rather than playing their first game together.
"When I came here in June he (Holtzman) was the first guy to greet me and we played catch all summer," Lee-Lauduski said. "And it really paid off today."
Holtzman's second TD catch pulled the Raiders within 26-17, but Kelly's back-to-back field goals for the Orediggers in the fourth quarter appeared to put the game out of reach until SOU mounted its comeback.
"We played hard till the end and that's a huge positive," SOU second-year coach Steve Helminiak said. "We had way too many mistakes to beat a good team, and yet we almost did, anyway."
Helminiak was tickled with the play of Lee-Lauduski but disappointed with a Raider running game that generated just 31 net yards. Hutsona, a transfer from Washington State who boasts blazing speed, managed only 33 yards on 12 carries.
"He (Hutsona) was never able to get to the second level," Helminiak said. "All he needs is a seam and he'll be dangerous, but we couldn't get him one today."
SOU held a slight 317-290 edge in total offense.
Montana Tech coach Bob Green, whose team is ranked No. 24 in the NAIA preseason poll, was happy to get out of Ashland with a win.
"That team (Southern Oregon) played a lot harder and more efficient than what we saw of them on film," Green said. "Their defense was running all over the place and they've picked up some playmakers on offense.
"We were hanging on for dear life there at the end. We had an outside linebacker, cornerback and free safety out of the game with injuries in the fourth quarter, but our backup safety (Gerken) saved the game for us by breaking up that pass on the two-point conversion."
Montana Tech 32, S. Oregon 30
At Raider Stadium
Montana Tech 7 0 19 6 ""32
Home 0 10 0 20 ""30
Kegel — run (Kelly kick).
O'Neill 25 FG.
Holtzman 7 pass from Lee-Lauduski (O'Neill kick).
Egan 2 run (Kelly kick).
Grevas 32 pass from Kegel (kick failed).
McCall 37 interception return (kick failed).
Holtzman 21 pass from Lee-Lauduski (O'Neill kick).
Kelly 22 FG.
Kelly 27 FG.
Greenidge 17 pass from Lee-Lauduski (O'Neill kick).
Holtzman 18 pass from Lee-Lauduski (pass failed).
First Downs 18 19
Rushes-Yards 44-125 31-19
Passing Yards 165 298
Comp-Att-Int 11-23-1 30-47-1
Total Yards 290 317
Punts 6-32.7 6-42.7
Fumbles-lost 4-1 4-2
Penalties-yards 10-82 17-162
Egan 23-62; Kegel 12-40; Briese 3-12; Warner 5-8; Steingruber 1-3.
Hutsona 12-33; Koontz 4-15; Van Zant 7-7; Patenaude 1-3; Lee-Lauduski 5-(-16); O'Neill 2-(-23).
Grevas 3-53; Soukup 2-57; C. Kelly 2-25; S. Kelly 1-19; Harcharick 1-8; McIntyre 1-7; Egan 1-(-4).
Holtzman 13-159; Greenidge 8-84; Harding 3-7; Jorgensen 2-31; Hutsona 2-7; Whitehead 1-9; Patenaude 1-1.
Raider comeback falls short