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Southern Oregon U. Wins NAIA National Football Title

Geoffrey Riley/JPR

Southern Oregon University's Red Raiders beat the Oregon Ducks to the punch. 

SOU's football team won the small-college NAIA football final on Friday in Florida, 55-31 over Marian University of Indianapolis.

It's the first-ever national title in football for the Ashland-based school, in a season in which the much-larger University of Oregon will compete for the NCAA title.

How unlikely is this?  We're talking about a liberal arts school in a liberal town, winning a national championship in the roughest and toughest of the ball sports.

And SOU's program appeared moribund just a few years ago, when Craig Howard took over as coach of a team looking for leadership and a conference to call home.

SOU joined the Frontier Conference, playing mostly teams from Montana, and won a share of the conference championship in its first season.

Quarterback Austin Dodge guided the team to the pinnacle of success on the field. 

Dodge shattered national passing records in the NAIA, and won National Player of the Year honors in the NAIA the day before the game.

The football team and the national trophy arrive back in Ashland Saturday, with a parade set for Sunday at Noon.

Geoffrey Riley is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and has hosted the Jefferson Exchange on JPR since 2009. He's been a broadcaster in the Rogue Valley for more than 35 years, working in both television and radio.