ASHLAND, Ore. — Home-field advantage has not really been a thing when Southern Oregon University's rival Eastern Oregon makes the trip to Raider Stadium. The Raiders haven't beaten the Mountaineers in Ashland since 2016, but it all changed on Saturday.
The visiting Eastern Oregon Mountaineers entered the day with a nice number 18 ranking in the NAIA Top 25, and a 2-5 record against the Raiders since 2012 when playing in Ashland. They weren't ready, however, for an SOU team that continued to improve off of last week's come-from-behind win against Carroll College. Instead, the Raiders showed up on all sides of the ball for a convincing 24-3 win over their rival.
"There are still mistakes that are being made and we're leaving some things out on the field, but as long as we keep getting better there's a bright future for us this year and in the future [years]," Raider head coach Charlie Hall said after the win.
The defense kept the same grit they've shown at times during the 2021 season and played with it the whole game. Their "bend don't break" mantra was put to the test multiple times throughout the day, but it held true. Giving up 284 yards of offense, the Raider defense came up with stops in key moments and limited the Mountaineers to just three points.
Leading the way on defense was junior lineman Alejandro Sanchez with ten tackles, including three sacks. Ika Ngauamo was also a menace in the backfield, picking up three sacks of his own as he, Sanchez and the rest of the Raider defense wreaked havoc on the EOU offense. On top of that, last week's Frontier Conference defender of the week Drew Schuler had seven total tackles and an interception. Sophomore Seth Miller came up with a redzone interception as well, basically cementing the Raider victory.
"We're just really good players, we just feed off of each other," Sanchez said. "Having our new defensive coordinator, Coach [Jerome] Souers is a blessing. He's an amazing coach, he really guides us in the right direction."
Special teams were another factor in the Raiders' decisive win. Eastern Oregon averaged less than 15 yards a return thanks to good kick coverage. On the flip side, SOU only received two kickoffs, but they made the Mountaineers pay. Shane McLaughlin returned one for 95 yards to make it a 24-3 ball game in the fourth quarter. His other kick return was good for 41 yards, setting up the Raiders with great field position. A lethal weapon for the Raider return team.
"Watching [Shane McLaughlin] go one-on-one with the kicker I said, 'Oh baby it's track time,'" special teams coordinator Jonathan Burrell said when recalling the 95-yard kick return. McLaughlin is a Cascade Conference champion in the 4x400 relay.
After a scoreless first half, the offense settled into a rhythm, capitalizing on a turnover as well. In the third quarter, the Raiders put up 17 points in the span of five minutes.
Matt Struck threw for 208 yards and a touchdown. Bryce Goggin once again led the way for the wideouts, racking up 112 yards on seven catches. Christian Graney got his first touchdown reception this season on a seven-yard throw in the third. Running back Avery McCuaig picked up his second score of the year, finishing with 54 yards on 15 carries.
All in all, a complete team performance from the Raiders. Next week, SOU is on the road to take on current No. 20 Montana Western, although the Bulldogs lost Saturday to Rocky Mountain. That game kicks off at 11 am PT.