ASHLAND — Accustomed to burying visitors early, the Southern Oregon Raiders didn't like the feeling of their miniscule 17-16 halftime lead over Montana Western on Saturday.
So junior Dylan Young pulled fellow receiver Ryan Retzlaff aside and said, "If we're supposed to be (two of the) top three receivers in the nation, we need to go and start making plays and put the team on our back."
Then, Young followed his own advice.
Young had seven catches for 125 yards and four touchdowns, all in the second half, and the Southern Oregon defense held Montana Western scoreless over the last 40 minutes, powering the 22nd-ranked Raiders to their fifth win in a row, 51-16, at Raider Stadium.
SOU quarterback Austin Dodge threw for 443 yards and seven touchdowns, including three to Young in the third quarter, when the Raiders in a flash turned what had been a close game into another Frontier Conference beat down. Melvin Mason added 151 yards rushing, Ryan Retzlaff (123 yards) and Matt Retzlaff (103) also had 100-yard receiving games and Josh Leff came up with his third interception in the last two games as the Raiders outscored the Bulldogs 34-0 in the second half.
The win sets up a first-place showdown between Southern Oregon (6-2, 6-1 Frontier) and seventh-ranked Carroll College (7-1, 6-1) next Saturday in Helena, Mont., with the winner scooting into the conference driver's seat for its final two games.
"We expect to get their best game and we expect to play our best game," SOU head coach Craig Howard said. "This is what we've practiced for and waited for. We take them one at a time and this one happens to be Carroll College."
The Raiders certainly didn't play their best game through the first 30 minutes Saturday. They moved the ball well enough, gaining 216 yards in the first half to Montana Western's 141, but struggled to convert third downs (2-for-8) and shot themselves in the foot while turning the ball over four times — three fumbles and an interception.
Still, Aldrick Rosas' 24-yard field goal reclaimed the lead for the Raiders 24 seconds before halftime, capping an ugly but entertaining first two quarters that also included an SOU staple: the gadget play — this time, a hook-and-ladder from Dodge to Ryan Retzlaff to Matt Retzlaff that worked perfectly for an 18-yard touchdown. The play, installed only two days before the game, is called "Spiegelberg," in honor of the Retzlaffs' grandfather, former Medford prep football coach Fred Spiegelberg.
"If he was alive today, he'd be a happy man," Howard said.
Looking for their second shocker of the season against Southern Oregon — Montana Western defeated the Raiders 38-34 in September — the Bulldogs (3-4, 3-4) instead self destructed in the third quarter, albeit with plenty of help from SOU.
Their first three drives of the second half all ended in disaster. First, SOU blocked Seth Mason's punt and recovered the ball at the Montana Western 28 to set up Dodge's touchdown pass to Young, who outjumped a defender in the right-front corner of the end zone.
Then, SOU's Laure Calcagno stripped Montana Western running back Dylan Kramer of the ball and Leff recovered at the Raider 47. On the next play, Dodge hit Young with a high-arching, 53-yard bomb to give the Raiders a 30-16 lead.
The Bulldogs continued to unravel on their next possession, when Tyler Hulse's wounded duck pass on second-and-18 was picked off by Leff at midfield. Hulse completed 23 of 42 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns but was intercepted twice and managed only 58 yards passing in the second half.
"Turnovers have been our nemesis all year," Montana Western coach BJ Robertson said. "Obviously we did a great job in the first half of causing turnovers, (and) obviously we need to capitalize a little more on those when we get them. And then, obviously, compliments to SOU. That's what they did different than us. When they got their turnovers, they capitalized on them."
Montana Western stopped the Raiders on their ensuing possession and marched to the SOU 20 but stalled there and had to settle for a 37-yard field goal, which Connor Greth pushed wide right.
The Raiders then marched 80 yards in 15 plays, upping their lead to 37-16 on Dodge's 2-yard strike to Young.
Dodge added two more TD passes in the fourth quarter, the last to Matt Retzlaff with 7:54 to go. The younger Retzlaff, a redshirt freshman, made a fingertip grab in the back of the end zone to give Dodge his 41st touchdown pass of the season, one off the school record he set last year.
Despite their sluggish start, the Raiders finished with 694 yards of offense to Montana Western's 283. The Bulldogs could place an asterisk next to their final rushing total of 84 yards, however. Leading rusher Sam Rutherford, who went off for 185 yards and three TDs in the Bulldogs' previous win over SOU, hurt his knee on his first run of the game and never returned. His backup, Kramer, gained 67 yards on 17 carries.
Robertson refused to use Rutherford's injury as an excuse.
"Compliments to our guys," Robertson said, "I thought they did a hell of a job weathering the storm. Next man up, and Dylan Kramer's a solid backup and did a great job and sparked us. That's football."
Now, the Raiders can start preparing for a Carroll team that's on a three-game winning streak of its own. It'll be a matchup of strengths. The Raiders lead the nation in total yards and points per game, while the Fighting Saints lead the nation in scoring defense.
"This is going to be my first time playing them," said Abnor Toma, a freshman linebacker, "so I don't really know the tradition, but I know they're a tough team. But we're a tougher team. We're going to bring the heat."
Young can't wait.
"Talking about it right now, I'm getting chills," he said. "It's going to be electric."
Southern Oregon 51,Montana Western 16
At Raider Stadium
Montana Western 6 10 0 0 —16
Southern Oregon 14 3 20 14 —51
MW — Lords 51 pass from Hulse (run failed)
SOU — R. Retzlaff 19 pass from Dodge (Rosas kick)
SOU — M. Retzlaff 18 pass from Dodge (Rosas kick)
MW — Peniston 18 pass from Hulse (Greth kick)
MW — FG Greth 34
SOU — FG Rosas 24
SOU — Young 28 pass from Dodge (Rosas kick)
SOU — Young 53 pass from Dodge (run failed)
SOU — Young 2 pass from Dodge (Amsler kick)
SOU — Young 11 pass from Dodge (Rosas kick)
SOU — M. Retzlaff 6 pass from Dodge (Rosas kick)
First Downs 19 44
Rushes-Yards 27-84 52-233
Passing Yards 199 461
Comp-Att-Int 23-42-2 37-53-1
Total Yards 283 694
Punts 7-31.9 1-48
Fumbles-lost 2-1 4-3
Penalties-yards 9-69 10-110
Montana Western — Kramer 17-67, Lake 4-14, Rutherford 1-5, Hulse 5-(-2).
Southern Oregon — Mason 23-151, Tow 16-72, Marshall 3-11, M. Retzlaff 1-4, Kammel 3-3, Dodge 5-2, Amsler 1-(-10).
Montana Western — Hulse 23-42-2 199.
Southern Oregon — Dodge 35-51-1 443.
Montana Western — Brekke 8-51, Peniston 4-33, Lords 3-54, Bergren 2-19, Smith 2-14, Price 2-13, Kramer 1-11, Lamping 1-4.
Southern Oregon — R. Retzlaff 9-123, M. Retzlaff 8-103, Young 7-125, McShane 3-31, Scottow 3-16, Mason 3-15, Tow 2-30, Marshall 1-15, Birks 1-3.