ASHLAND – If nothing else is completely clear yet about the Southern Oregon University football team's winning formula in 2018, its ability to kick into a new gear at any given moment has been established.
On an afternoon that was arguably dominated by their punter, Jaxon Clark, the No. 3-ranked Raiders turned what had been a four-point game in the final minutes of the third quarter into No. 23 Montana Tech's most lopsided loss in four years. The 44-12 pounding Saturday marked SOU's 100th all-time win at Raider Stadium, and it made the Raiders (3-0) and Montana Western the last two unbeaten teams in the Frontier Conference.
The Orediggers (2-1) closed a 13-point halftime gap to 16-12 on Tanner Kump's 20-yard touchdown pass to Trevor Hoffman with 7:21 left in the third, but the Raiders answered the call by closing the game with four unanswered touchdowns.
It turned on a shanked punt that left the Raiders needing only 35 yards, and Rey Vega's 1-yard TD rush put them back up by two scores with a minute left in the third. On the ensuing kickoff, Marcus Montano sent a parachute job that took a tall bounce and found SOU's David N'Guessa at Tech's 20-yard line. On the next play, a reverse-pass from receiver Isaac Hurd to Jason Shelley in the corner of the end zone made it 30-12.
SOU rushed 44 times to net 276 yards, its highest total since Nov. 21, 2015. The longest was a 60-yard TD burst from Quaderius Clemmons that served as the exclamation point with 3:13 left. Clemmons finished with 121 yards on 10 carries, quarterback Wyatt Hutchinson had 73 on 12, and Rey Vega added 63 on another 12.
The game was dictated by field position, however, thanks to Clark's career day. The junior from Grants Pass stuck five of his six punts inside Tech's 20-yard line, including two that were down inside the Diggers' 1. His best effort was a 68-yarder – the longest for a Raider in seven years – and he had another that bounced 64 yards.
Tech's best field position all day was at its own 35-yard line following a kickoff that traveled out of bounds. Conversely, the Raiders started in Digger territory five times.
Montano also nailed all three of his field-goal attempts of 19, 20 and 28 yards. Those served as the Raiders' only points until they pieced together a seven-play, 70-yard drive that ended with Hutchinson's 23-yard pass up the middle to Brosen Ader with four seconds left in the first half, making it 16-3.
The Raiders continued to pile on late. John Jackson Jr., who had previously tipped two passes at the line, tipped a third to himself and came up with an interception that he took 18 yards to Tech's five with two minutes left. Cameron Daugherty took advantage with a four-yard rushing TD, his first as a Raider.
Collin Crown had a team-high eight tackles, and August Forrest III had seven with SOU's only two sacks. His second caused a Kump fumble that was recovered by Nick Kernaghan and put the Raiders in field-goal range in the second quarter. Later, Harry Kolone intercepted Kump to set up another field-goal drive.
Kump finished 19-of-35 for 232 yards, including 10 completions to Dion Williams for 139 yards.
To go with the 83 rushing yards he gained, Hutchinson completed 16-of-29 attempts for 148 yards. The TD pass to Ader was his first of the season.
The late ambush was reminiscent of the Raiders' season-opener at Eastern Oregon, where they scored 29 unanswered points after falling behind 10-0.
They've won seven in a row at home dating back to last season but will be back on the road next Saturday at Carroll (3-1, 2-1). Over the last two weeks, the Saints have scored back-to-back wins against Linfield and Montana State-Northern and had their season-opening loss at Rocky Mountain turned into a forfeit win.