LA GRANDE — The feeling-out process lasted about 28 game minutes for the Southern Oregon University football team. Its ambush of Eastern Oregon happened a lot faster than that in a season-opening 32-13 win on Saturday afternoon at Community Stadium.
Shut out and laboring through six unbecoming drives, the No. 4-ranked Raiders waited until the final play of the first half to cut into a 10-0 deficit and used it as the starting point of a steamrolling that ensued. Wyatt Hutchinson, the sophomore making his first start at quarterback, deflated some of the momentum EOU acquired early by leaping into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown as time expired and the Raiders never looked back, running up a 22-0 advantage in the third quarter.
Senior running back Rey Vega rushed for 104 yards on 19 carries. After Marcus Montano’s 44-yard field goal evened the score on the Raiders’ first drive of the second half, safety Tyler Dean intercepted EOU quarterback Kai Quinn and, on the very next play, Vega exploded through the middle of the field for a 53-yard TD that put the Raiders ahead for good with 6:54 left in the third.
Quinn, the noted sophomore who helped the Mountaineers to a 24-21 win against The College of Idaho last week, passed for 346 yards. But during the second half, he completed just 9-of-21 passes, threw interceptions to Dean and AJ Cooper and was sacked four times. One of those, laid down by Tyson Cooper with nine seconds left in the third, resulted in a fumble that Devvon Gage scooped up and brought back 55 yards for a touchdown.
Spanning back to last season, SOU has won 11 consecutive Frontier Conference games going into next Saturday’s 1 p.m. home debut against The College of Idaho. The Raiders have defeated EOU in six of seven trips to La Grande since joining the Frontier.
Hutchinson’s first showing resulted in a 14-of-27 line for 163 yards and just one sack compared to the six SOU totaled. He hit Jason Shelley six times for 84 yards. And he was most impressive with his feet, on which he gained 100 yards and netted 82 on 18 carries with an additional 18-yard scoring run in the decisive third.
It was plenty to work with for the Raider defense, on a day when Gage became the sixth player in team history to hit the 300-tackle milestone. He had seven, Dean led the team with eight, and Tyson Cooper had a pair of sacks among his six tackles.
After leading the NAIA in sacks last season, the defensive line hits some familiar notes as six within its unit were credited: James Porter (1 1/2), John Jackson Jr. (1), Sean Rogers (1), August Forrest III (1/2) and Tre Holmes (1/2). The sack for Rogers, a senior, gave him 22 1/2 in his career and moved him into the No. 4 spot on SOU’s all-time list.
SOU outgained EOU, 399-385. Mountaineers receiver Brenden Kelly made six catches for 175 yards and a score.
Montano, a senior, tacked on a 42-yard field goal in the fourth, giving him multiple 40-yarders in the same game for the first time in his career.