Snow, wind, cold, and a win were all in attendance at Saturday’s NAIA semi-final matchup between the No. 1 ranked Morningside College Mustangs and the No. 7 ranked Southern Oregon Raiders. If the players blood wasn’t already pumping from the chilly 37° degree weather, the game got it going. It came down to the wire, with the outcome being decided on the final play. The Raiders blocked a 42-yard field goal attempt by Morningside with five seconds left to secure the 30-27 victory, as well as, a trip back to Daytona Beach, Florida for a second consecutive appearance in the NAIA National Championship Series game.
Quarterback Tanner Trosin’s dual-threat ability repeatedly fooled the Mustang defense throughout the game. Trosin finished the game 27-of-39 passing for 391 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and added 76 yards on the ground with two rushing touchdowns.
Trosin’s second rushing touchdown came with 1:15 left in the 4th quarter that put Southern Oregon up for good. That score came on a crucial 4th down play, which saw Trosin punch into the end zone on a designed quarterback run. The five yard score capped off a 4:13, 85-yard scoring drive.
Luckily for Trosin and the Raiders, they were able to overcome the miscues that plagued Southern Oregon. SOU fumbled the ball five times–only losing two of them–and turned the ball over six times in total.
Trosin wasn’t the only big performer for the Raiders offense this Saturday. Receivers Matt Retzlaff and Sean Tow both turned in superb performances. Retzlaff had nine receptions for 139 yards and Tow had four receptions for 78 yards. Running back Keegan Lawrence carried the ball seven times for 20 yards and a touchdown.
As impressive as the offense was, defense is what won the game for Southern Oregon. The machine-like Morningside offense paved the path to their No.1 ranking. In 11 of their 12 victories the Mustangs put up 45 or more points. Seven different games saw them score 68+ points. Typically relying on their ground attack, Morningside came in averaging 366 rushing yards per game.
Today, SOU held them to 109 rushing yards and an average of 2.6 yards per carry.
Devvon Gage was a force to be reckoned with all afternoon as he led the stingy defense with 13 tackles. Also contributing to MC quarterback Ryan Kasdorf’s nightmare was David Wedier, who recorded 2.5 sacks. Whether due to cold conditions or the constant swarm of Raiders on the ball, Morningside’s running machine that had been well oiled all season, failed to start.
With the victory, Southern Oregon earns their second consecutive berth in the NAIA Championship Series final. There they will face a familiar opponent in the Marian Knights (IND). The team they faced last year in the championship game. The Raiders won that matchup decisively 55-31 to claim their first ever NAIA National Championship.
Again the Raider defense faces another offensive powerhouse with Knights, who are averaging 42.3 points/game, and boast a formidable rushing attack (205.8 yards/game, 40 rushing TDs on the season).
Defending champions and a rematch of the title game. The Raiders have answered the call all season and despite dropping a few games, they are in the position to protect the throne. The only question left this season: will the National Championship trophy stay in Ashland for another year?