Eastern Oregon was on the verge of an upset over in-state rival and unbeaten Southern Oregon.
The Mountaineers, who had led most of Saturday night’s contest, were trailing by four points, but driving for the go-ahead score with less than two minutes to play. On second-and-two from the SOU 22, Victor Dias took a handoff, made a move left, and sprinted for the goal line, looking like he was about to score.
But as he crossed the five-yard-line, he collided with teammate Brenden Kelly, who was blocking upfield. The ball popped up in the air and the fumble was recovered by SOU defender Oshay Dunmore.
The No. 7 Raiders went on to survive the upset scare, 31-27, in a wild Frontier Conference battle at Community Stadium.
“It’s just one of those things where you’ll learn from it, but at the same time, it hurts a little bit,” head coach Tim Camp said of the loss. “That’s the in-state rival. You have to be able to beat them.”
But while crushing and unfortunate final play of that late drive will stand out to fans for a long time, Camp said that wasn’t what decided the game.
“There are things earlier on that took place that led to us being in that position,” he said.
Indeed, the items that have plagued EOU all season sprung up again. Eastern was victimized by penalties, getting flagged 11 times for 112 yards. One negated a touchdown, and others came at inopportune moments to either set EOU back or extend an SOU drive. The Mountaineers turned the ball over four times — including on their final three possessions — and lost the turnover battle for the fourth time in six games.
Eastern had held SOU’s potent offense in check through three quarters, and went into the fourth with a 24-10 lead.
But Tanner Trosin and the Raiders broke through in the fourth. The SOU quarterback hit Dominic Giampaoli for a 12-yard touchdown to make it a 24-17 game. A Nathan Harden field goal put EOU up by 10 with eight minutes to play. Trosin, though, found Bronsen Ader on a deep pass over the middle — which EOU had covered well all night to that point — for a 66-yard score to make it a three-point game.
AJ Cooper then jumped a route to pick off EOU QB Kai Quinn, and Trosin went deep to Matt Boudreaux for 35 yards and a score on the next play for a four-point lead — SOU’s first of the night — with 5:02 to play.
“Credit Southern Oregon. They’ve got a good team, and they made plays at the end of the game to win the game,” Camp said. “We left some plays out there that I wish we could we have back — fundamental things. I don’t want to take anything away from them. They traveled up here and they won the game. Good job on their part. We need to execute when we have the opportunities. We didn’t do that through four quarters.”
Eastern’s execution was its best of the season through at least three quarters, however. Quinn, who threw for 307 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions — all career highs — found TJ Hancock for a 44-yard touchdown pass and a 10-0 lead midway through the second quarter. He later hit an open Kelly — who had beaten his defender on a double-move — for a 66-yard score and a 17-3 lead late in the first half.
The Raiders pulled within 17-10 at the break when Jordan Suell caught a 40-yard Hail Mary on the last play of the half, but EOU reestablished its 14-point lead on a Quinn to Connor Falk eight-yard score late in the third.
“We have to finish, but we had some big plays offensively we moved the ball well (Saturday) against a very, very good defense,” Quinn said. “Offensively, we did a good job. Wide receivers came up with some big plays.”
Kelly was Quinn’s go-to option much of the night. The junior hauled in nine passes for 206 yards — both career highs. He said, though, while there was more progress, the Mountaineers need to develop more consistency.
“I felt like we took a step forward. We need to keep grinding and keep building off of what we did the week before and eliminate turnovers and penalties. Every week (it’s) penalties. I know there’s one that cost us a touchdown, and then a couple (cost us) big plays.”
Trosin finished with 344 yards passing and four touchdowns for Southern Oregon.
EOU (2-4 overall, 2-4 Frontier) travels to Montana Western Saturday.