They hooted and hollered, high-fived, rattled cowbells and jumped for joy in the stands at Municipal Stadium on Friday.
Family members and other fans of Southern Oregon University football players stood loud and proud as their eighth-ranked Raiders won their first-ever NAIA title on Friday, 55-31, over the seventh-ranked Marian University Knights of Indiana.
They stormed the field and greeted the players after it was all said and done. There were hugs, kisses, selfies and tears at the end of the program’s magical run.
Football dad Dave Scottow and several others had to catch their breath at intermission. SOU (13-2) already led 38-10 during a first half that had fans in red and black buzzing.
“I was so tired from all the energy in the first half that I had to tell myself, ‘You’ve got to push through,’” said Scottow, whose son Jeremy had three catches for 39 yards. “It was phenomenal. You fall in love with these kids because they are playing with your kids. You meet the parents and brothers and sisters and, sitting in the midst of everyone, it was just so awesome.”
It was exhausting, and it was totally worth it.
Daniel Scottow, a 20-year-old sophomore at SOU and Jeremy’s little brother, flew out of the Austin, Texas, airport with parents Dave and Susan on Wednesday, making a stop in Charlotte, N.C., before arriving in sunny Florida. The Scottow boys grew up and played sports in Medford before the family relocated to Texas because of Dave’s job. Papa Scottow didn’t let the distance slow him down though, making it to all but three of the team’s road games this season.
The Raiders looked relaxed and had fun all week long, Daniel observed. The Scottows’ hotel was just down the road from the Hilton where the team stayed. Still adjusting to the three-hour time difference, Jeremy and his fiance, SOU cheerleader Ashlee McFall, enjoyed an early dinner with the rest of the family on Thursday.
“The beautiful thing about it is they enjoyed the entire week and this is just icing on the cake,” Daniel said.
Cori and Mark Gibson, parents of standout lineman and former North Medford player Drew Gibson, arrived in Daytona Beach via San Francisco International Airport and stayed in a room at the Hilton overlooking the ocean.
They were all surprised and delighted to be greeted at the stadium by a large band of Florida-area high-school students wearing NAIA T-shirts and performing the SOU fight song.
The collection of all-star musicians made Southern Oregon fans feel right at home, Dave said. Mike Beagle, SOU’s director of alumni relations, was behind the entertainment.
A large video board provided instant replay at Municipal Stadium, a 9,601-seat venue that is home to Bethune-Cookman University and is also used to host home games for the Mainland High School football team.
By and large, its images pumped up SOU fans and bummed out Marian fans.
Daniel Scottow and the Raider faithful went crazy when Julius Rucker returned a 54-yard interception for a score in the first quarter.
“Getting that first field goal was big, but when Rucker got that pick-six, that entire half we were just hopping up and down,” Daniel said.
But when Marian got within a couple of scores, there was some tension in the air, Cori Gibson recalled.
“Before the game, it was very hopeful (in the stands),” she said. “People really thought we could do it. Then during the game, it was a little bit stressful, but the kids played a good game and of course the ending was fantastic.”
The scene on the field afterward was worth savoring, Raiders fans decided. The SOU faithful remained there for nearly an hour.
“There was red all over the place,” Cori Gibson said.
SOU coach Craig Howard was interviewed by ESPN sideline reporter Tiffany Greene, and then Greene interviewed star quarterback Austin Dodge.
That’s when things got personal 3,000 miles away for Mr. Raider himself, Stan Smith. A World War II veteran and a member of SOU’s last undefeated team in 1946, Smith was watching the game in Medford with a group of friends when they erupted.
Dodge took a portion of his camera time to give Smith a shoutout.
“(My friends) got a big charge out of that,” said Smith, who’ll be 91 in two months. “It surprised the hell out of me.”
“Austin Dodge is phenomenal,” Smith added. “That was great.”
Truth be told, Cori Gibson said, her most emotional moment came on Thursday, when Howard offered up an inspiring speech during a banquet.
At the end of it, Howard recalled the moment he promised seniors like her son, Drew, that the Raiders would win a national championship in four years.
Howard also took the time to call Smith on Friday morning.
“He told me he loved me,” Smith said.
By Friday night, Sloppy Joe’s — an old Ernest Hemingway haunt with delicious Caribbean-American cuisine and strong drinks — was packed with Raiders soaking up the Daytona Beach vibe.
Shawn and Mike Retzlaff, parents of SOU receivers and former South Medford standouts Matt (sophomore) and Ryan (senior) Retzlaff, traveled with the team on a charter flight Monday. Ryan had five catches for 117 yards and a touchdown and Matt five catches for 107 yards.
“The only word that comes to mind is surreal,” Shawn Retzlaff said. “It is a dream for them.”
Rob Retzlaff, the oldest brother, flew into Florida from Los Angeles, where the 25-year-old works in the insurance industry. With about 45 seconds left in the game, he told his mom and dad that they should start moving toward the field. They were about 12 rows up from the 50-yard line in seats that cost about $32 each.
“We saw Matt first,” Rob said. “I talked to him and he saw my mom and gave her a hug and held onto her for five minutes and cried. I just told them I loved them and was proud of them, and to remember this moment because it’s once in a lifetime.”
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him online at twitter.com/danjonesmt