ASHLAND – The afternoon started with an Eastern Oregon kickoff fielded by EOU 48 yards away, and it never got much better for No. 7-ranked Southern Oregon in a stunning 27-17 loss Saturday at Raider Stadium.
That harbinger wasn't fully realized until the second half, where the No. 24 Mountaineers (4-2 Frontier Conference) broke a 3-3 halftime deadlock with 17 unanswered points and shut down the Raider offense for the 11th drive in a row. They've taken wins home in four of their last five trips to Ashland, this time handing the Raiders (4-2) their second straight loss and dropping them into a three-way tie for second place behind Montana Western (5-1).
In addition to the recovered kickoff, EOU claimed all three of the game's takeaways with interceptions by Haziel Ledezma in the first half and Eli Teuteu and Zackary Jacobs in the second. Jacobs, the NAIA leader in interceptions, now owns six.
The Mountaineers went up 6-3 on Nathan Harden's 29-yard field goal on the opening drive of the third quarter and, after stalling out early, their offense came to life in a flash. Back-to-back Kai Quinn completions to Brenden Kelly for 34 yards set up a one-yard Victor Dias touchdown run with just under four minutes left in the third, capping a 61-yard drive. Then the EOU defense forced a quick three-and-out, and two plays into the ensuing Mountaineer drive Quinn got loose for a 76-yard, untouched trek up the middle to make it 20-3.
Quinn completed just 16-of-40 passes for 216 yards but later added a 31-yard TD through the middle to TJ Hancock. Hancock brought in four catches for 88 yards and Kelly had four for 82. EOU also netted 178 rushing yards – Dias had 83 on 18 carries – compared to SOU's 86 on 27 tries.
The Raiders had won the last three meetings between the teams, including this year's Sept. 1 opener in which they trailed 10-7 at halftime before exploding for a 32-13 victory.
Lineman Isaiah Cranford helped keep the EOU defense in control throughout this time around with 3 ½ sacks and nine total tackles. Justin Hughes had 10 tackles and Chase Van Wyck was responsible for four quarterback-hurries.
Backup quarterback Chasey Knutz put the Raiders in the end zone for the first time with 5:15 to play on a 31-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Hurd, and Jason Shelley temporarily brought the Homecoming crowd to life with a 95-yard kickoff return for a TD with 2:22 left, cutting the lead to 27-17. SOU recovered Marcus Montano's onside-kick after the score but turned the ball over on downs.
Knutz completed 7-of-13 passes for 60 yards with one interceptions. Starter Wyatt Hutchinson was picked off twice, going 19-of-36 for 160 yards.
SOU was out-gained, 394-306.
Raider linebacker Tyson Cooper led the Raiders with 11 tackles, including a sack and two more for losses. Corner Dareion Bell highlighted their efforts in the secondary with five pass break-ups.
The Raiders will attempt to bounce back next Saturday at College of Idaho (3-4, 2-4 FC) with a 1 p.m. Mountain Time kickoff.