Eastern Oregon University’s Jason Simonis goes airborne Saturday in the Mountaineers’ 68-22 loss to Southern Oregon. EOU has dropped three straight games after a 2-0 start. LARRY STAUTH, Jr. - for the Mail Tribune
ASHLAND — Moments after Southern Oregon put the finishing touches on another record-setting offensive performance, receiver Cole McKenzie shrugged his shoulders and reiterated what his teammates and head coach have been saying all along: So what?
“We know the potential we have on this offense,” he said. “We’re ranked first in the nation (on offense) for a reason.”
Austin Dodge passed for 468 yards in the first half, three of his receivers topped the century mark and the Raiders needed only two quarters to break the 45-point barrier for the fourth time in five games in a 68-22 shellacking of 24th-ranked Eastern Oregon on Saturday at Raider Stadium.
Southern Oregon, which entered the game sporting the nation’s top-ranked NAIA offense, scored 30 points in the second quarter on four Dodge touchdown passes and a field goal to open up a 51-7 halftime lead before letting up in the second half and still breaking the school’s all-time single-game record for total yards with 706.
The win keeps the Raiders (3-2) in the thick of a tight Frontier Conference title chase. They’re one-and-a-half games behind league-leading and 13th-ranked Montana Tech and one game behind eighth-ranked Carroll College with five games remaining in the regular season.
Eastern Oregon (2-3) appears to be headed in the opposite direction after suffering its third loss in a row. The Mountaineers were ranked eighth after starting the season 2-0, but have been outscored 112-32 since.
Dodge, who leads the nation in passing yards, completed 23 of 30 passes and tossed five TDs before sitting out the second half. His backup, Chris Kammel, completed 16 of 19 passes for 143 yards and another score.
Patrick Donahue caught eight passes for 124 yards, Clay Sierra five for 118 and Cole McKenzie three for 128, as Dodge and company picked apart the Mounties’ secondary with long bombs, short screens and everything in between. Among the highlights were Dodge’s 85-yard TD pass to Sierra that made it 31-7, Dodge’s 73-yard TD pass to McKenzie that made it 37-7 and two basket catches in the last 2:18 of the first half by Donahue. The last of those came with 15 seconds to go and capped a 71-yard drive that took just 1:01.
“Like I said before, playmakers make plays,” said Dodge, whose 468 passing yards was a career high and the fourth-highest single-game total in SOU history. “So Cole (McKenzie), Pat (Donahue), Justin (Otaguro), Clay (Sierra) stepped up big, and A.J. (Herlitz) had a touchdown. They make the job so, so easy. And it worked out today. We always feel like our game plan’s strong, and our coaches put our offense in a good situation and we execute it.”
And this season, they’ve made it look easy.
Even after shifting into conservative mode, the Raiders still manufactured three solid scoring drives in the second half, the last of which covered 75 yards and finally ended the bludgeoning with SOU in front 68-14 and 10:31 to go in the fourth quarter.
“Good football team,” Eastern Oregon head coach Tim Camp said. “They have speed, they did a nice job, they’re well-coached. They have some good athletes who make plays. They get in a rhythm, it’s fast-paced and all of a sudden, before you know it, it’s a little bit out of control.”
That happened early Saturday. Playing against an Eastern Oregon team it has owned in head-to-head matchups — SOU now leads the all-time series 46-14 with three ties — Southern Oregon wasted no time taking charge in this one, busting out to a 21-0 first-quarter lead on two long drives followed by Josh Leff’s 18-yard interception return. Leff jumped in front of Jason Simonis’ pass toward the sideline then dodged one potential tackler on his way to the end zone as the crowd went bonkers.
Eastern Oregon answered with its only meaningful drive of the day, a 75-yarder that Simonis finished with an 18-yard keeper on the second play of the second quarter.
But the Mountaineers’ defense couldn’t build on that momentum.
The Raiders quickly charged down the field again before settling for a Colin Amsler 35-yard field goal, then forced a three-and-out by EOU. Two plays later, facing a second-and-13 from SOU’s 15, Dodge rolled out to his right and found the 6-foot-5 Sierra open over the middle 30 yards downfield, and the athletic tight end juked out one would-be tackler before sprinting the remaining 55 yards to the end zone.
“I just knew Dodge would see me,” Sierra said. “We’re unstoppable right now. We’ve just gotta keep working hard and keep doing our thing.”
Southern Oregon’s next drive featured an equally electric finish. One play after SOU converted a third-and-five at its own 11, Dodge dropped back and lofted a 48-yard strike to McKenzie, who caught the ball ahead of the defense at the Eastern Oregon 32 and cruised into the end zone to put the Raiders on top by 30 points with 5:17 to go in the first half.
“I just saw the ball in the air and I started booking it,” McKenzie said. “When I caught it I was actually a little bit tired, but I just kept going with it, pumped the legs a little bit and made it in. It was a big adrenaline rush, especially at home.”
Southern Oregon’s final drive of the first half provided the perfect exclamation point, and another example of the Raiders’ offensive prowess. After taking over at their own 29 with 1:16 to go, the Raiders used two long passes — a 25-yarder to Teran Togia and a 22-yarder to Otaguro — to set up a first-and-10 at the Eastern Oregon 21. On the next play, Dodge found Donahue wide open in the corner of the end zone.
The win was SOU’s seventh in a row at home, the longest home winning streak for the Raiders in more than 10 years. Now if the Raiders could only remedy their road woes, they’d be in business. Southern Oregon suffered its fourth straight road loss last week, 48-45 in double overtime at Montana Tech.
With back-to-back road games against MSU-Northern and Montana Western coming up, however, the timing could not be better for a Raider breakthrough.
“That’s the key — can we take this on the road?” SOU head coach Craig Howard said. “I’ll talk to the team about it, and we’ll spend a lot of time as coaches and players coming up with a plan to win on the road.”