ASHLAND — The casual fan may look at today's Frontier Conference football game between 23rd-ranked Southern Oregon and Montana Western and pencil it in as an easy victory for the Raiders.
A paranoid Raiders fan, looking ahead to next week's mega-clash with seventh-ranked Carroll College, may instead label it a classic trap game.
But to Southern Oregon head coach Craig Howard, the second meeting of the season between the two schools represents neither. Yes, he says, the Raiders will be challenged. And no, he insists, they will not be caught overlooking the Bulldogs, regardless of what happened the last time the two teams met (a 54-21 Raider win on Sept. 1).
"Our plan is to be one-and-oh every week," Howard said by phone Friday as his team practiced in Butte, Mont., about an hour away from the site of today's game in Dillon, Mont. "If we win this game, it makes the Carroll game huge. We know that, but we're not looking past Montana Western."
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. local time, noon Pacific.
The Raiders (4-2) could be forgiven for taking a little too much confidence into their second trip to Montana in as many weeks. In the last meeting between the two teams, SOU scored 35 points in the second half and amassed 585 yards of offense to win the season-opener for both teams. The performance turned out to be a sign of things to come — the Raiders have scored 45 points or more in five of six games and lead the nation in points per game (51.2) and yards per game (630.2).
Individually, SOU quarterback Austin Dodge is the nation's leading yards-per-game passer, receiver Cole McKenzie is the nation's second-leading yards-per-game receiver and receiver/return man Patrick Donahue ranks third in all purpose yards per game.
"With what we're doing offensively, we just want to try to maintain the momentum that we've been able to carry so far throughout the year," SOU offensive coordinator Ken Fasnacht said. "Obviously we're getting explosive play from our quarterback and our wide receiver positions, and our running backs are doing well "… but the most important thing offensively this week is to keep executing and playing good, solid football."
Southern Oregon may have a hard time keeping up its record pace once the elements start to become a factor, and that could happen as early as today. The weather forecast for Dillon calls for a high of 48, rain and wind gusts up to 27 mph.
The high winds in particular could limit the Raiders' deep passing attack, which has become one of the team's most deadly and oft-used weapons. The net result could be more rushing attempts for an SOU team that averages 205 yards rushing a game.
That's fine by Howard, who doesn't care how the Raiders get their points, so long as they end up with more than the opponent.
"If it snows, it snows; if it rains, it rains," Howard said. "I think the wind is always a factor with a passing team, but we've got to adjust."
Montana Western (2-4) will be looking for a signature win after pushing Carroll last week in a 21-14 road loss. The Bulldogs have been better than their record indicates since the lopsided loss to SOU. They beat Dickinson State handily, lost in overtime to No. 8 Montana Tech and manhandled Eastern Oregon in La Grande, 16-3.
The pass-first Bulldogs have used two quarterbacks this season, but it was Kenney Bradley who was under center last week against Carroll. He's completed 52 percent of his passes for 568 yards and five touchdowns with five interceptions.
Three Montana Western receivers have 25 catches or more, including leading receiver Rashad Peniston, who has 38 catches for 521 yards and three touchdowns.
Defensively, the Raiders may be without play-making cornerback Josh Leff, who leads the team with four interceptions, and will definitely be without safety Monti Wilson. Leff is dealing with headaches — not a concussion, Howard said — and will be a game-time decision.
"I don't like playing a team twice in one season," Howard said. "They're a better team now than when we played them earlier, but I think we're a better team, too. Maybe there's a revenge factor, but revenge doesn't score points."