ASHLAND — Southern Oregon stepped up its play on defense and special teams at just the right times Saturday to help the Raiders pull off a stunning upset of previously undefeated Mary Hardin-Baylor at Raider Stadium.
The Raiders won the important field-position battle and used a pair of fumble recoveries for touchdowns to knock off the Crusaders, 40-28, and earn their second straight victory.
"It was a real big win for our guys," said SOU coach Steve Helminiak, whose team improved to 3-5 overall. "They've battled all year long. When you lose five straight, there are a lot of reasons to point fingers or give in, but the guys stuck together and persevered and really came out and played hard today."
Part of the intensity revolved around the fact that SOU was playing its final home game of the season, but it also didn't hurt that Mary Hardin-Baylor ventured from Texas with a No. 3 ranking in NCAA Division III football and a perfect 6-0 record.
"The way we played today is really what we thought we were all year long," added Helminiak. "And anytime you play a team that's as good as Mary Hardin-Baylor is, it's kinda tough not to be up for the game. Our guys were really excited to play this game because you don't get a lot of chances to play teams like that here very often."
After the two teams traded punts, the Raiders got on the board first on a 24-yard touchdown pass from J.C. Hunsaker to Brandon Stout.
The Crusaders (6-1) answered right back on a 7-yard run by Josh Landrum.
SOU came back and, in a drive highlighted by a fake punt that resulted in a 27-yard gain, took a 14-7 lead on a 9-yard strike from Hunsaker to Darryl Price. The Raiders went 80 yards in 16 plays during the scoring drive and knocked 6:32 off the second-quarter clock.
The Raiders then got the ball back and when the offense sputtered, senior punter Steve Palmer pinned the Crusaders on their own 3-yard line. SOU's defense then got on the board, pushing the lead to 21-7, when Courtney Robinson hit Crusaders quarterback Josh Saenz in the end zone to force a fumble and Ben Baker picked up the ball for an SOU touchdown.
Undaunted, the Crusaders came right back and scored two quick touchdowns in under four minutes to send the game into halftime tied 21-all.
After forcing a Mary Hardin-Baylor punt to start the second half, SOU drove the ball 46 yards on six plays and took a 28-21 lead on a 2-yard run by senior running back Marlon Rosales.
The SOU defense again stiffened to deny the Crusaders on their next possession, and the Raiders pushed their lead to 34-21 on a 17-yard pass from Hunsaker to Stout.
Proving turnabout is fair play, Mary Hardin-Baylor used a 47-yard fumble return to cut SOU's lead to 34-28 with 3:01 left in the third quarter.
But again it was Palmer teaming with the Raider defense to give the Raiders more breathing room.
Palmer's 40-yard punt put the Crusaders on their own 5-yard line and on their second offensive play of the series, Saenz' option pitch landed in the end zone where SOU's Byron Sconiers fell on it for a Raider touchdown and a 40-28 advantage that would hold through the fourth quarter.
"Our defense has been there for us all year long and once again they made big plays," said Helminiak. "Obviously the two scores on defense were huge. And on special teams the fake punt was big and Stevie Palmer pinned them down quite a few times and that really made a difference."
Rosales went for 100 yards rushing for the second straight game and fourth time this season, finishing with a game-high 139 yards. Hunsaker, in his second career start, completed 21 of 32 passes for 150 yards and three touchdowns.
"I think J.C. Hunsaker is doing a great job of managing the team right now," said Helminiak. "He doesn't do anything necessarily spectacular, but he keeps the guys up and keeps the guys focused and just drives the football. Today we were able to run the ball effectively and that takes pressure off him and allows him to make plays."
The SOU defense held the high-powered Crusader offense to 305 yards, with Kevin Harrell's nine tackles leading the Raider effort. Senior Damario Watson also proved instrumental in slowing down the Texas team.
"Damario Watson every week has been a playmaker for us," said Helminiak. "Every time we need a big tackle, he makes it. If somebody misses an assignment or a gap, he's always there to make a play for them."
"I can't give enough credit to our defensive line, either," added the coach. "They stopped the run, which is what Mary Hardin-Baylor likes to do, and took them out of their comfort zone a little."
SOU will take next week off before returning on Nov. 8 to play a road game against South Dakota.
At Raider Stadium
Mary Hardin-Baylor 7 14 7 0 —28
Southern Oregon 7 14 19 0 —40
SOU — Stout 24 pass from Hunsaker (O'Neill kick)
MHB — Landrum 7 run (Munoz kick)
SOU — Price 9 pass from Hunsaker (O'Neill kick)
SOU — Baker fumble recovery in end zone (O'Neill kick)
MHB — Scott 47 pass from Saenz (Munoz kick)
MHB — Robinson 33 pass from Saenz (Munoz kick)
SOU — Rosales 2 run (O'Neill kick)
SOU — Stout 17 pass from Hunsaker (run failed)
MHB — Williams 47 fumble recovery (Munoz kick)
SOU — Sconiers fumble recovery in end zone (pass failed)
First Downs 14 23
Rushes-Yards 31-92 46-174
Passing Yards 213 150
Comp-Att-Int 12-24-3 21-33-0
Total Yards 305 324
Punts 7-39.4 7-38.9
Fumbles-lost 3-2 1-1
Penalties-yards 11-115 6-30
Mary Hardin-Baylor — Landrum 15-60, Saenz 10-16, Ellis 3-12, Vadell 2-4, Meyer 1-0.
Southern Oregon — Rosales 35-139, Paredes 1-27, Malcom 7-11, Hunsaker 3-(-3).
Mary Hardin-Baylor — Saenz 12-24-3 213.
Southern Oregon — Hunsaker 21-32-0 150, Lee-Lauduski 0-1-0 0.
Mary Hardin-Baylor — Robinson 6-88, Brown 3-34, Scott 2-72, Davis 1-19.
Southern Oregon — Stout 7-77, Dukeshire 5-26, Patenaude 5-15, Beach 2-18, Price 2-14.