ASHLAND — Something about falling behind early brings out the best in the Southern Oregon Raiders.
And these days, the Raiders' best is good enough — at least at Raider Stadium.
Patrick Donahue caught a "spider" screen pass and dashed 22 yards untouched for the go-ahead score with 1:05 to go as Southern Oregon stormed back from a 21-3 deficit to stun Simon Fraser, 31-28, Saturday at Raider Stadium.
In what has become a season-long trend, the Raiders turned the ball over three times in the first 16 minutes of the game to dig themselves a sizable hole, only to catapult right back with a big-play offense.
Southern Oregon cut the deficit to one point by halftime, briefly took the lead in the third, fell behind again, then made a key defensive stand to earn one final shot at redemption from its own 44-yard line with 2:15 to go. SOU (4-4) used two passes and two runs to get to the Simon Fraser 22. On the next play, Austin Dodge, who passed for 314 yards, hit Donahue in stride as he cut toward the middle of the field.
The crowd erupted as a wall of SOU blockers blasted a Boeing 747-sized hole, and Donahue bolted through for the go-ahead score.
"I saw the tunnel, and I followed the tunnel all the way to the end zone," Donahue said. "My coach told me, 'Hey, we're going to put the game on your back,' and I just accepted it."
Simon Fraser's last gasp went up in smoke when Trey Wheeler's bomb was intercepted by James Antaplyan at the SOU 30, securing the Raiders' latest come-from-behind victory.
The win was SOU's fourth in its last five games, continuing the team's comeback from an 0-3 start that's beginning to look like a fluke. The turnaround includes three wins at Raider Stadium, where the Raiders have yet to lose under first-year head coach Craig Howard.
"At halftime I talked to them about the will to win," Howard said. "They showed great character. It may have been a turning point for our program to have a game like that, to be down 21-3 (and win)."
Simon Fraser, based in Burnaby, B.C., fell to 2-6 a week after coming up short on another long road trip to Oregon, losing 34-10 to Western Oregon.
"We were out-coached, badly," Simon Fraser head coach Dave Johnson said. "Our kids gave a tremendous effort today on both sides of the ball, and I thought their coach did a better job of getting his kids ready and having an answer late in the game than we did."
Donahue's catch-and-run was his second long strike of the day. He earlier had a 50-yard catch put SOU on the board early in the second quarter. That was the play that finally brought the Raiders to life after a frustrating first quarter in which they out-gained the Clan 130 yards to 92 but still trailed 14-3.
Turnovers were the culprit again. As in their previous home game against Eastern Oregon, SOU repeatedly surrendered possessions early on with two interceptions and a fumble, not to mention a blocked punt that Simon Fraser turned into a Nigel Palma touchdown and a 21-3 lead.
But following that same script, the Raiders rebounded emphatically, first with Donahue's long score, then with Manny Barragan's 23-yard rushing touchdown, and later with two field goals by Tyler Crowley. The second, a 30-yard boot midway through the third quarter, gave SOU its first lead of the game, 23-21.
The Clan came right back, reclaiming the lead, 28-23, on Wheeler's 36-yard touchdown strike to B.J. Bryant with 5:51 to go in the third.
Entering the fourth, SOU trailed by the same score despite a lopsided stat sheet: the Raiders had 480 yards to the Clan's 304, had converted seven of 15 third downs to the Clan's 0-for-8 and were dominating the time of possession, 27:25 to 17:35.
But, Simon Fraser had zero turnovers, four fewer than the Raiders ended up with.
"I'm just pulling my hair out," Howard said of SOU's turnover woes
Southern Oregon came up empty on its first three drives of the fourth quarter, a fizzle that included a stunning goal-line stand by Simon Fraser after SOU had a third-and-goal from the 1. The last of those flameouts — a turnover on downs from the SFU 18 with 3:17 to go — could have been demoralizing, but the Raider defense saved the day by forcing the Clan to punt four plays and less than a minute later.
That's when Dodge went to work. He started by scrambling for seven yards, then hit Cole McKenzie for a nine-yard gain and Justin Otaguro for an 11-yard gain. Barragan took a direct snap on the next play and ran seven yards to set up the winning play.
The Raiders used a little deception on the two-point conversion pass, lining up for the kick before quickly switching to a spread formation. It worked beautifully — backup quarterback Paul Sweeney completed a pass to Adam Evers, who was standing all alone in the middle of the end zone.
Barragan had his best day as a Raider, rushing for 198 yards to lead a balanced offense that racked up 588 yards on a whopping 109 plays. Two Raider receivers also had 100-yard days — Donahue 118 yards receiving on eight catches and Otaguro 100 yards receiving on nine catches.
Barragan continues to fill in for Brandon Baldwin, who led the Raiders in rushing in 2009 and 2010 before injuring his knee Sept. 17 at Willamette.
"I knew when Brandon went down that I had a big task to take over," said Barragan, a junior. "Brandon's a great player and he has been for the past three years, so I have some big shoes to fill."
Dodge completed 33 of 56 passes with two touchdowns, but he was also picked off three times. Wheeler mostly struggled, missing several open receivers in a 13-for-28, 155-yard day.
Clan running back Bo Palmer rushed for 136 yards and a touchdown to highlight an offense that totaled 347 yards.
Southern Oregon 31 , Simon Fraser 28
Simon Fraser 14 7 7 0 —28
Southern Oregon 3 17 3 8 —31
SOU — FG Crowley 30
SFU — Palmer 4 run (Sternau kick)
SFU — Palma 15 blocked punt return (Sternau kick)
SFU — Bowcott 6 run (Sternau kick)
SOU — Donahue 50 pass from Dodge (Crowley kick)
SOU — Barragan 23 run (Crowley kick)
SOU — FG Crowley 45
SOU — FG Crowley 30
SFU — Bryant 36 pass from Wheeler (Sternau kick)
SOU — Donahue 22 pass from Dodge (Evers pass from Sweeney)
First Downs 16 35
Rushes-Yards 39-192 53-275
Passing Yards 155 314
Comp-Att-Int 13-28-1 33-56-3
Total Yards 347 588
Punts 7-45.3 1-43
Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-1
Penalties-yards 6-48 4-44
Simon Fraser — Palmer 25-136, Tudor 5-19, Pospischil 1-15, Spagnuolo 4-9, Bowcott 2-7, Wheeler 2-6.
Southern Oregon — Barragan 29-198, Dodge 13-61, Friloux 7-21, Mancusi 1-5, Team 3-(minus 11).
Simon Fraser — Wheeler 13-28-1 155.
Southern Oregon — Dodge 33-56-3 314.
Simon Fraser — Bryant 4-78, Baumbach 4-35, Corrado 2-31, Pospischil 2-(minus 3), Palmer 1-14.
Southern Oregon — Otaguro 9-100, Donahue 8-118, Barragan 6-20, McKenzie 5-42, Tiernan 2-16, Olson 2-15, McDonald 1-3.