SOU wins quarterfinals; defeats Lindsey Wilson College 34-29

SOU Football @ LWC. Courtesy: Brian Schnee

(Courtesy: SOU Sports Information)

For a Southern Oregon University football team that specializes in being sent out on the road and leaving a trail of broken hearts, Saturday's 34-29 knockout of No. 4 Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) was just another notch on the Raiders' belts in the NAIA Championship Series.

Trailing their quarterfinal matchup by one point with 2 minutes 15 seconds on the clock, the No. 5 Raiders got the ball and another shot at turning a higher-ranked opponent to dust. And, yet again, they didn't miss.

Tanner Trosin, starting from SOU's 25-yard line, completed three consecutive passes – an eight-yarder to Rey Vega, a 13-yarder up the middle to Chase Cole, and a 35-yarder up the sideline to Jordan Suell, who secured the ball while falling out of bounds after it had been knocked around by his defender. Following a Trosin rush and another completion to Cole that got the Raiders to LWC's 6-yard line, Vega went up the middle for the go-ahead score with 47 seconds to spare.

The Raiders are 12-0. They've won six consecutive postseason road games since 2014. Home teams have gone 63-18 in the NAIA FCS since 2012, and the Raiders have accounted for six of those upsets.

They'll get a shot at another next Saturday, when they visit second-ranked and unbeaten Reinhardt (Ga.) for the right to a spot in the Dec. 16 national title game. Top-ranked Saint Francis (Ind.) will host No. 3 Morningside (Iowa) in the other semifinal.

LWC wrapped up at 11-1 after giving SOU one final scare in the final moments. Blue Raiders quarterback Dylan Beasley hit Mikey Davis for a 31-yard pass and then scrambled for 27 more with the clock winding down, but on the third play of the drive – from SOU's 23-yard line – defensive end Sean Rogers hit him in the pocket, and while falling to the ground Beasley lost a fumble that Noah Johnson found.

"When things looked as down as they did for us at the end, there was no quit, and that's what you come to expect from a bunch of kids who've been in it before," first-year SOU head coach Charlie Hall said. "They just have a lot of character, a lot of heart, and a lot of attributes you saw from coach (Craig) Howard's teams. It's a determined, mature group and they're on a mission."

Trosin, the Frontier Conference Offensive Player of the Year, finished 25-of-38 with 279 passing yards and nine rushes for 58 more. As the Raiders built a 21-10 halftime lead, he hit Cole in the end zone from 21 yards out and Isaac Hurd for a 14-yard score – the first touchdowns for both Raider receivers this season.

The mission was sidetracked in the second half, though, as the Raiders fell behind on the scoreboard for the first time since the sixth game of the season.

The temporary collapse started innocently enough, after a two-yard Michael Roots touchdown rush that gave SOU a 28-17 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter. LWC responded with a 43-yard drive, and Jared Dougherty kept hopes alive by drilling a season-long 48-yard field goal with 10 minutes left.

On the ensuing kickoff, the momentum shift turned palpable. SOU stepped out of bounds at its own 1-yard line, and on its first play from scrimmage Vega was taken down in the end zone for a safety.

With the lead cut to 28-22, LWC constructed an eight-play, 80-yard drive spurred by Beasley's 44-yard pass to Davis and capped by his five-yard TD pass to Jay Gaudlock with no room to spare on the sideline.

The teams then exchanged defensive stops before Trosin and company went to work.

"It's frustrating to have the game somewhat under control and let them back in it, and there are some second-half things we certainly need to address," Hall said. "But when you get to this level of the season, every team is so good that you just have to do enough to win. You have to make a play or two more and we did."

The Raider defense did plenty against a LWC offense that hadn't been held under 35 points all season. Blake Ingleton, who'd rushed for five TDs and 241 yards in the first round, was limited to 47 yards on 14 carries. Beasley, the second-most efficient passer in the country, completed 21 of 34 attempts for 344 yards but was sacked five times.

Junior linebacker Devvon Gage recorded a team-high 12 tackles and was responsible for one of those sacks, and senior safety Keegan Lawrence made 11 tackles.

"They were as athletic as any team we've played all year but we stopped a big-time running back and made them a little more one-dimensional than they wanted to be," Hall said.

Vega, SOU's junior running back, started the game with a four-yard touchdown rush that topped off an 80-yard drive. He's scored five TDs in the first two rounds and the Raiders have scored an opening-drive touchdown in five of their last six games.

The Raider defense, meanwhile, kept its opponent off the board on its opening stand for the ninth game in a row. That work enabled SOU to go up 14-0 on Cole's TD catch at the end of the first quarter.

The quarterfinal game was the first between two undefeated teams since 2009. In four consecutive trips to the postseason, the Blue Raiders have yet to make it to the semifinal round.

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