Four days after he learned he was 12th-ranked Southern Oregon’s new starting quarterback, Jack Singler engineered his first game-winning touchdown drive and may have saved the Raiders’ season in the process.

The fifth-year senior who took over for the injured Tanner Trosin threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Zack Davis with 51 seconds left as the Raiders averted disaster with a 24-20 Frontier Conference victory over 22nd-ranked Montana Western Saturday at Raider Stadium.

Singler and the Raiders offense trotted out onto the field facing a 20-17 deficit from their own 11-yard line with 2 minutes, 50 seconds to go. On the seventh play of the drive Singler heaved a perfect 49-yard bomb to Davis down the sideline, and three plays later on third-and-goal Singler hit Davis over the middle for the go-ahead score.

Montana Western quarterback J.D. Ferris’ Hail Mary fell incomplete well short of the end zone as the final seconds ticked off the clock, and Raiders celebrated their first win of the season in their home opener.

“I couldn’t replace (Trosin) and we never can, but I just wanted to come out and play hard and do what I’m supposed to do,” said Singler, who graduated from South Medford High School before heading off to De Anza Community College (California) then transferring to SOU. “Tuesday and Wednesday we had a tough couple days but through the week I was just gaining confidence, guys were giving me a boost and when you’ve got great teammates like that you’ve got to play your best at all times and that’s what I was trying to do.”

SOU coach Craig Howard said Singler, who completed 32 of 49 passes for 387 yards and two touchdowns, was ready for his opportunity because he put in the time and effort during the offseason. That’s good news, he added, because the bad news is that Trosin may be done for the season after breaking his foot last week against UC Davis.

“It’s a 365-day-of-the-year process, teaching these guys to develop a culture where somebody will find a way,” said Howard, whose team improved to 1-2 overall, 1-1 in the Frontier Conference. “We’ve got that saying, ‘The longer we play, the better we get and somebody will find a way.’ I’m so proud of Jack Singler. He had ice-water in his veins. Calm, cool, collected. When the game was on the line, he was pretty good.”

Montana Western (2-2, 1-2 Frontier) was in great position to spring the upset and pick up what would have been its third road win of the season after Ferris found Tyler Murray on a 7-yard touchdown pass over the middle with 2:55 to go, giving the Bulldogs a 20-17 lead.

Seth Mason missed the point-after kick to keep a game-tying field goal for SOU in play, but even that looked overly optimistic after Singler and company found themselves facing a 3rd-and-20 from their own 17 with 2:24 to go.

Singler said a field goal was never part of the plan.

“We gotta get in the end zone,” he said of the team’s philosophy before the drive. “We don’t want a field goal, we don’t want to tie. We want to win it right now. … There are always nerves but I think we were confident because we do that every week in practice. We have a two-minute drill every Friday and I think we were confident. We knew what we were supposed to do and we executed.”

Following a timeout, Singler completed a 16-yard pass to Jason Shelley, and a pass interference penalty against the Bulldogs saved SOU from fourth down. Two plays later, Singler dropped back and heaved his prettiest and longest pass of the day to Davis, who was dragged down at the Montana Western 8 with1:47 left. Singler was drilled as he let go, but the hit didn’t affect his accuracy and he could tell from the roar of the crowd that the ball had found its target.

“It was perfect,” said Davis, who along with Matt Retzlaff (100 yards) and Shelley (84 yards) was one of three Raiders with at least 65 yards receiving. “I did my job getting over the top, he did his job putting it perfectly where I could get it.”

On third-and-goal, Singler said his first read was to another receiver, but the Bulldogs had that covered so he scanned to Davis. The senior transfer from Midwestern State broke across the middle and scooped in Singler’s low dart just past the goal line.

“It’s great, always, when you get your first win in your first start,” Singler said. “It was awesome. But we just gotta keep building now and gotta get better.”

“That’s how we practice it,” Davis said of the pass. “It’s got to be low, that way if any defenders are coming in from the inside we can just catch it and kind of roll into the end zone. It was a perfectly-thrown ball.

“I was just happy for Jack, honestly. He played lights out. First game being the starter, it was awesome.”

The Raiders were in control after Marcus Montana’s 22-yard field goal gave them a 17-7 lead early in the third quarter.

The Bulldogs’ defense stiffened after that however, and they cut the deficit to three when Ferris found Charlie Switzer with a 10-yard touchdown pass with 9:43 to go in the game. Ferris completed 30 of 49 passes for 345 yards and three touchdowns for the Bulldogs.

After forcing the Raiders to punt, Montana Western took possession at its own 20 with 7:39 to go. The Bulldogs then marched 80 yards in 10 plays, converting two third downs along the way.

Southern Oregon scored the first touchdown of the game early in the second quarter, a Singler-to-Retzlaff hookup on third-and-goal from the 6. That may turn out to be a new headache for Frontier Conference defensive coordinators, but it’s merely a do-over for Rogue Valley football fans. Singler and Retzlaff played football together in the local Pop Warner football league, in middle school and in high school.

“We’ve been best friends probably since we were four years old,” Retzlaff said. “I’ll tell you what, that chemistry has always been there. We weren’t sure if we were ever going to get that back again. It’s weird how God works. I’m very sorry for (Trosin) — I love him to death — but Jack stepped up to the opportunity and I want to say we picked up right where we left off.”

Montana marched 68 yards in five plays to tie the game on its next possession. Southern Oregon answered with a 73-yard drive of its own, with Sean Tow fighting his way into the end zone from the 3 to put SOU up 16-7.

The Raiders had 548 yards of total offense. Most of that came through the air, but Rey Vega rushed for 89 yards on 20 carries to power SOU’s ground game.

For the Bulldogs, Hunter Thomson rushed for 69 yards and Beau Brekke had six catches for 118 yards.

The win saved the Raiders from an 0-3 start, which would have been a major blow to their playoff chances, but the road to the postseason gets considerably tougher next week at No. 21 Carroll. The Fighting Saints will likely fall out of the NAIA Top 25 after losing to unranked Montana State-Northern 28-14 on Saturday.

Singler said it’ll take a team effort.

“I just gotta stay within my ability frame,” he said. “Can’t get outside that. Gotta do what coach Faz [offensive coordinator Ken Fasnacht] wants. And hopefully we can execute, get the running backs the ball and that’ll open up the passing game for us.”