ASHLAND — Just when it appeared the Dickinson State football team had a found a glimmer of hope, Tanner Trosin and Southern Oregon University put the Blue Hawks’ season to bed with yet another lights-out performance.
Trosin threw four touchdowns and SOU continued its undefeated season by fending off a third-quarter surge in a 55-24 victory over Dickinson (North Dakota) in the opening round of the NAIA Championship Series.
After racing out to a 31-3 lead in the first half, highlighted by defensive tackle Josia Maglente-Tonu’s 21-yard interception return for a touchdown — one of five turnovers forced by SOU — the Raiders (11-0) surrendered back-to-back touchdown drives to open the second half.
SOU then answered as Trosin converted a pair of third-and-longs, including a 21-yard deep out to Dominic Giampaoli on third-and-20. Trosin found Rey Vega for a 2-yard scoring reception to cap a 13-play, 78-yard drive.
Dickinson’s next two drives ended with interceptions by defensive backs A.J. Cooper and Oshay Dunmore, giving SOU all the cushion it needed to comfortably cruise into the next round, in which the No. 5 seed Raiders will travel to Kentucky next Saturday to face fourth-seeded Lindsey Wilson — the fourth time in six years SOU has reached the quarterfinals.
“We have a lot of seasoned vets on our defense that have been on a national championship team (in 2014), a (championship) runner-up team (in 2015), a 5-6 season (in 2016), and just have a lot of experience,” said Dunmore, who in the second quarter forced a fumble on a sack that led to a 37-yard touchdown pass from Trosin to Vega two plays later, one of Vega’s three touchdowns in the game.
“So there’s not whole a lot that we haven’t seen and there’s not a whole lot that offensive coordinators or any team in the country, really, can throw at us and make us uncomfortable,” Dunmore continued. “It’s just a matter of taking it one play at a time and executing.”
The 13th-seeded Blue Hawks (9-2), champions of the North Star Athletic Association, had few answers for the dynamic attack led by Trosin, who threw touchdowns to Giampaoli and Jordan Suell on the Raiders’ first two possessions.
Trosin accounted for 469 of SOU’s whopping 630 yards of total offense, its highest total in 20 games dating back to last season.
“They’ve just got a lot of weapons,” Dickinson coach Pete Stanton said. “They just hit us with their weapons and their quarterback was on. And he made a lot of great throws today. And their speed at receiver — at times we were there and they just went up and made plays on the ball. …They’re a great team and we knew we had to win some of those jump balls and we didn’t.”
“I think that what sometimes gets lost is how good they are defensively,” he added. “They’re very aggressive and very solid on defense and fast on defense. They give you a lot of problems and they’re just a very good team.”
When he wasn’t completing balls to 11 different receivers, four of whom had at least 50 yards receiving, Trosin was giving Dickinson’s defense fits by avoiding pass rushers, tucking the ball away and juking tacklers in the open field.
“I ain’t gonna lie: It’s a blessing to have so many weapons. It’s a blast out here,” Trosin said. “That’s why I’ve always got to keep a smile on my face because we have so much talent on our field. It’s hard to keep everybody happy, but I try to spread the wealth as much as possible.”
As for his ability to escape the pocket and his downfield elusiveness, Trosin said:
“I was just reacting. They were taking away some of our pass plays, so I just tried to save the play with my feet, that’s what coach wants me to do.”
“They say I’ve got some feet, but I don’t know,” he added with a hearty chuckle. “I just try to play and have fun and do what I can for my team.”
Dickinson lost two key players in the first quarter, including its leading rusher, Karsten Mack, to a sprained ankle.
That didn’t help Blue Hawks quarterback Hayden Gibson, who struggled throughout the first half before finding his groove in the third quarter.
“Offensively, when you can get up on somebody and you get that lead, you certainly take a team that’s dependent on running the football, you kind of have to make them play from behind, that’s not within their game plan as much anymore,” SOU coach Charlie Hall said. “They can’t control the clock, they can’t control the big plays that they need, so we put them in a position where they’ve got to do things they’re not comfortable with, and that kind of lets us release the dogs a little bit and get after them.”
As for the Raiders’ chances to advance beyond the quarterfinals, Hall seemed confident.
“It’s a very mature group,” he said. “I mean, yes, they’re happy, but they’re not just giddy about the whole thing. I think what you have here is you’ve got a lot of seniors and juniors that have been on this run before. They know what to take before you get to that final game, how to go about that and that approach. So we’re just fortunate to have that experience, and those kids that have been to a national championship game, to show that leadership and to keep our emotions on track so that they’re ready at the right time.”
— Reach reporter Mike Oxendine at 541-776-4499 or firstname.lastname@example.org.