St. Ambrose had an answer for a slow start in Saturday's NAIA Football Championship Series game against the high-powered Southern Oregon Raiders.|
However, the hosting and nationally 8th-ranked Fighting Bees couldn't stop the 10th-ranked Raiders when they needed to as Southern Oregon scored 28 unanswered fourth-quarter points to pull away for a 45-28 victory that ended St. Ambrose's season.
"In the second half, they made some adjustments and we just couldn't pull it out,'' said SAU defensive back Jordan Bell. "They spread us out, they ran at us and pretty much put (defensive coordinator) Coach (Jeff) Girsch in a bind. You had to pick your poison.''
Southern Oregon, which led the NAIA in yards per game (657.0) and scoring (54.4) for the season, churned out 547 yards, keeping SAU's defense on the field for a whopping 105 plays. Sophomore quarterback Austin Dodge completed 28-of-51 passes for 307 yards. Behind Manny Barragan's 192 yards rushing, the Raiders added 240 yards on the ground.
Also making it tough on SAU was that the confident 9-2 Raiders converted 17-of-24 third-down chances.
It proved to be too tough a mix to stop for 60 minutes as the Bees, who were shut out in the second half, ended with a 9-2 record.
"They make you defend every inch of the field from sideline to sideline and they obviously mixed in the vertical balls,'' said SAU coach Mike Magistrelli. "You have to defend every part of the field and do it quickly with their up-tempo stuff.''
SAU, though, proved to be a tough out despite falling behind 17-6 in the first quarter and looking overmatched in the first 15 minutes.
Ironically, it was SAU's defense that got the Bees back into it. SAU scored 22 second-quarter points to go up 28-17 at the half, converting on all three of SOU's turnovers.
Free safety Mark O'Connor stripped Barragan of the ball early in the second quarter, giving SAU a short field at the SOU 23-yard line. Seven plays later, junior quarterback Eric Williamson scrambled in for a four-yard touchdown run. The Bees, though, failed on the two-point run and still trailed 17-12.
A Steve Thomas interception stopped another SOU drive and gave the ball back to the Bees, who drove 92 yards in just three plays – with the help of a 15-yard SOU penalty -- to take the lead. Williamson found Sam O'Donnell wide open behind the defense for a 46-yard scoring strike to make it 18-17 when that conversion run failed.
O'Connor again stripped Barragan, stopping a Raiders drive at the SAU 7-yard line with 2:07 left in the half. Cole Kelly (22 carries, 143 yards), ripped off a 71-yard run that was followed by Anton Wilkins' 17-yard TD scamper for a 25-17 SAU lead.
SAU forced a punt on the next possession and a 37-yard Williamson-to-O'Donnell pass set up Quinn Treiber's 21-yard field goal at the halftime horn for a 28-17 lead.
With the big second quarter, SAU put up 332 yards offense in the first half, finishing with 472 for the game. Williamson was 26-of-42 with one TD and two picks – one returned for a score in SOU's fourth-quarter spree that sealed SAU's fate.
"I'm proud of the kids and the way they fought back,'' said Magistrelli. "We had things rolling and were in a great situation at the half. We just didn't make enough plays in the second half and their kids did. That's a good football team.''