ASHLAND — Minutes after learning that Southern Oregon had clinched no worse than a tie for the Frontier Conference championship — the team’s first since 2012 — Raiders junior linebacker Tyson Cooper remained stoic. His muted reaction to the Raiders’ milestone Saturday reflected a tone the team adopted during its fall camp back in August.
Eight wins and one Frontier Conference title later, it’s become part of SOU’s DNA.
“I think the team feels just as much as I feel that that’s not good enough,” Cooper said. “We’ve got high goals on this team and we’re here to do things. So that’s not good enough for us.”
Tanner Trosin enjoyed a career day, the Southern Oregon defense had three interceptions and a safety and the Raiders even received some unexpected help from 900 miles away in what turned out to be a nearly flawless day for SOU football. Trosin passed for 502 yards and three touchdowns as the seventh-ranked Raiders overwhelmed a dangerous Montana Western team 44-19 to improve to 8-0 for the first time since 1946.
The win, combined with Rocky Mountain’s upset of 11th-ranked Montana Tech, secured for the Raiders at least a tie for their second Frontier championship with two games left in the regular season. Southern Oregon can clinch the league title outright and an automatic berth in the NAIA Championship Series with a win over conference doormat Montana State-Northern (1-8, 0-8 Frontier) next week. After that, it’s on to Butte, Montana, for a game against Montana Tech (6-2) that, up until Saturday, was supposed to be the regular-season game of the year for both teams.
Following the Raiders’ latest beatdown, however, it’s starting to look like SOU-MT may be, for the Raiders at least, just another opportunity for the league’s most dominant team to sharpen its tools before things get serious.
“It hasn’t really sunk in,” SOU first-year head coach Charlie Hall said of the league title. “We’re always so focused on what we do today and what we need to do today …but (8-0) is a great milestone, especially going through what these guys have gone through. When you look at what (Trosin) went through last year, what Oshay (Dunmore) went through. The guys who have endured injuries, guys who have transferred from other schools. The senior class, which is what today was all about, their hardships, their injuries, their perseverance, their tragedy, this is a great way to sort of say thank you and just keep working hard and good things are going to happen.”
They certainly did Saturday.
The Raiders meant business from the beginning, stuffing the Bulldogs’ first possession then driving 88 yards to take a lead SOU would never relinquish on its way to a 28-6 halftime lead.
The most important sequence of the first 30 minutes occurred early in the second quarter. Down 14-6 at the time, the Bulldogs drove from their own 20 to the SOU 4 for a first-and-goal, but two incomplete passes by Bennett Gibson sandwiched around a 1-yard run led to a 20-yard chip-shot field goal attempt by Starkey Tanner. He pushed it wide right, and four plays later Trosin hit Matt Boudreaux in stride for a 65-yard touchdown pass that, following the point-after kick, gave the Raiders a 21-6 lead.
Trosin put an exclamation point on his sensational first half by finding a wide open Jordan Suell for an 18-yard touchdown pass with 23 seconds left, completing a 74-yard drive that took only 1:02. The senior quarterback also showed off his touch with a 35-yard rainbow TD to Jason Shelley early in the second, and completed 20 of 26 passes for 301 yards and three touchdowns in the first half alone. He completed 33 of 47 passes overall.
“Coach calls the plays and I try to execute it the best I can,” said Trosin, who moved into third place on SOU’s career passing yards list (6,516) and is tied for fourth all-time with 42 career touchdown passes. “Coach likes to go deep so that’s what we gotta do, I gotta complete a deep ball. I finally got one today.”
He got more than one. SOU’s top four receivers each caught at least one pass of 40 yards or more, and Trosin spread the love, as three Raiders eclipsed 100 yards receiving — Bronson Ader (122), Shelley (117) and Suell (110).
“(Deep passes) are in the game plan every week” Suell said. “Tanner’s such a great quarterback, we try to hit the deep ball every week and just see what’ll happen.”
The Bulldogs (4-5, 4-4), meanwhile, who showed their potential in a 42-35 win over Montana Tech three weeks ago, struggled to finish drives after scoring their first touchdown on Gibson’s 24-yard pass to Melvin Walser with 5:26 to go in the opening quarter.
Montana Western gained 291 yards in the opening half, but was 0-for-2 on fourth-down conversion attempts and 5-for-10 on third downs.
Things went from bad to worse for the visitors early in the third, when SOU punter Jaxon Clark spiraled a beauty that was downed at the Montana Western 1-yard line. On the next play, Bulldogs running back Hunter Thomsen tried to escape a plugged hole by bouncing outside, and Cooper caught him two yards deep in the end zone for a safety and a 30-6 SOU lead.
“Up front, from the start it was a good call from the coaches,” Cooper said. “They tried to run a dive down the middle and it was completely stopped by our D-line, and without the effort of our end making him bounce out to me I wouldn’t have been able to make that play. For me, each play I just kind of go through my steps, go through what I gotta do and then execute. It’s just plays we do every day in practice so it wasn’t that hard for me to execute it.”
Montana Western scored two touchdowns in the last 16 minutes to make the final score more respectable, but overall it was a glass-half-empty day for the Bulldogs. Gibson passed for 381 yards and three touchdowns, but he was also picked off twice and fumbled on fourth down when the outcome was still in doubt. Thomsen rushed for 112 yards and Walser had eight catches for 122 yards.
Luke Goins, Dunmore and Stanford Toloke each had an interception for the Raiders, and Oshay, who missed all of last season with a broken foot, also blocked a PAT.
SOU’s next opponent, Montana State-Northern, has struggled to stay competitive at times, and is coming off a lopsided loss to Carroll. Will the Raiders be tempted to look ahead to Montana Tech?
Hall says no.
“It’s all about the 1-0 once a week and it’s about how we need to get better,” he said. “Every position’s gotta get better at a lot of different things.
“It’s a big investment. Every week’s an investment for the future. …I’m sure our players will be totally focused because there’s a lot at stake going forward. I told them today this is our seniors’ last (home) game, but it’s the first game of meaningful football going forward. And this game was a huge part of that first-step process. And next week is as well because it’s about momentum going into the postseason.”