WALESKA, Ga. — It was a game Southern Oregon never should have won, and then it was a game it never should have lost.
The fifth-ranked Raiders scored a go-ahead touchdown with 1:11 remaining in the NAIA Championship Series semifinals on a 54-yard fumble return by Isiah Carter, but ultimately fell to second-ranked Reinhardt, 37-34, in double-overtime.
Carter's touchdown came when Reinhardt only needed one first down to run out the clock and seal the game. After the unlikely score, Reinhardt kick returner Otis Odom took the ensuing kickoff to the Southern Oregon 46-yard line, followed by a 15-yard personal foul penalty against the Raiders.
Reinhardt (12-0) turned the big return into a game-tying 48-yard field goal by Nick Marquez with 40 seconds left in the contest.
Southern Oregon (12-1) had a chance to win it in regulation, but Marcus Montano's 50-yard field goal attempt went wide right, sending the game to overtime.
"There's no panic on our sidelines in these situations" said Southern Oregon coach Charlie Hall. "We got that fumble return but then we gave up the big play on the kick return. (The game) was really about the other team taking advantage of miscues and mistakes more than it was about taking advantage of mismatches."
Southern Oregon trailed most of the game after taking an early 3-0 lead on the game's first possession, a 31-yard field goal by Craig Contreras. Reinhardt answered with two first-half touchdown passes to Ronnie Chambliss from freshman quarterback Billy Hall, who was starting in place of the injured Dylan Wiggins. Hall finished the game 15 of 21 passing for 202 yards.
In the first overitme period, Reinhardt scored on a 2-yard run by Trevae Cain, and Southern Oregon answered in just two plays, when quarterback Tanner Trosin connected with Jordan Suell on a 27-yard touchdown pass to the corner of the end zone, tying the game at 31 and sending it to a second round of overtime.
Trosin, the Frontier Conference offensive player of the year, went 33-for-55 passing for 387 yards and three scores, and also added 63 rushing yards on eight carries.
The Raiders started the second overtime with the ball and had to settle for a 27-yard field goal from Montano.
Seven plays later, Cain again dove into the end zone from 2 yards out, clinching the victory for Reinhardt. The Eagles, faced with fourth-and-1 moments earlier, elected to go for it, and Cain squeezed out just enough to get the first down.
Reinhardt will face Saint Francis in the NAIA national championship game in Daytona Beach, Florida, on Dec. 16.
The Raiders were in the semifinals for the third time in four years. They'd won their previous five road games in the postseason, a feat no other team has accomplished since the postseason took on its current form in 1997.
Hall believes the success of this season was simply a continuation of the recent years' achievements.
Hall completed his first season with the Raiders. The longtime Ashland High coach took over following the unexpected passing of coach Craig Howard in January.
"I simply had the baton passed to me" said Hall. "I didn't come in here and try to change the agenda or change the culture. This was the expectation this season — to make it to this stage or further. You've got a group of players here that have won a championship before. That was coach Howard's belief, to put a ring on your finger and a degree in your hand."
"It was pretty crazy and you always have to believe," said senior safety Keegan Lawrence. "They got a first down with about two minutes left and it looked like it could have been over. But our defense kept believing and we got that touchdown. When emotions are running high, sometimes it's hard to keep them in check. But everyone played their (tails) off and the ball just didn't go our way at the end."
"It was intense" said Trosin. "It was an intense finish and unfortunately it didn't go our way. It's been an incredible experience though. All the glory goes to the Lord, and I'm just blessed to have been able to play another season and finish it out without injury."