DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Austin Dodge led Southern Oregon to its first NAIA football championship, throwing for 429 yards and three touchdowns in a 55-31 victory over turnover-prone Marian College on Friday.
Dodge, the NAIA Player of the Year, was 21 of 39 for the Raiders (13-2). Melvin Mason, Dylan Young and Ryan Retzlaff caught touchdown passes and Mason also ran for 56 yards and three scores.
“We fulfilled a dream because the players bought in,” Southern Oregon coach Craig Howard said. “These guys have done everything we asked and I promised these guys they would leave Southern Oregon with a degree and a national championship.”
Hayden Northern threw for a school-record 495 yards for Marian (11-3), but had six interceptions. The Indiana school also lost two fumbles. Anthony Jones Jr. had 17 catches for 234 yards and three touchdowns.
“The turnovers were big,” Marian coach Mark Henninger said. “We probably left 21 points on the board in the first half. Playing against a team like Southern Oregon you can’t turn the ball over like that and you can’t miss tackles like we did.”
The Raiders took a 24-7 lead in the first quarter and led 38-10 at halftime.
Marian rallied in the third quarter. Northern throwing a 12-yard touchdown pass to Jones and a 32-yarder to Krishawn Hogan on a fourth-and-2 to make it 38-24.
“We were able to chip away a little bit there,” Northern said. “It was tough coming from behind but I know my teammates were going to keep fighting.”
Dodge converted two third downs with passes to Jeremy Scottow and Young to set up a 9-yard touchdown pass to Retzlaff on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 45-24.
“Austin can make all the throws and we have the utmost confidence in him during these situations,” Howard said. “I think he has that it factor. I coached Tim Tebow in high school and he had it. Austin has it and you win championships with those guys.”
Marian and Jones teamed again for a 75-yard touchdown strike on the first play of the Knights’ next series to make it 45-31.
“I thought we were still going to come back,” Jones said. “I kept telling my teammates that this game wasn’t over yet.”
Dodge, however, continued to make his best throws on third down and led the Raiders on a 12-play, 57-yard drive that ended with a 38-yard field goal by Aldrick Rosas that gave Southern Oregon a 48-31 lead.
“This was an amazing effort from the offense today,” Dodge said. “The offensive line, the wide receivers, the coaches. It was a team effort and everyone deserves a lot of credit for this win.”
Julius Rucker had two interceptions for Southern Oregon, returning one 54 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter to make it 10-0.
“We wanted to attack and try to get the ball back to our offense as quick as we could,” Rucker said. “We were able to get turnovers and defense will win championships.”
Mason turned a simple check down into a 64-yard touchdown to give the Raiders a 31-7 early in the second quarter.
“That was a big play and everyone was able to feed off that play,” Mason said. “It’s just an amazing feeling to win this game with my team.”
Ryan Retzlaff had five catches for 117 yards, and Matt Retzlaff had five receptions for 107 yards for Southern Oregon.