ASHLAND — There isn't much left for the 25th-ranked Southern Oregon University football team to control besides what it does on the field the next two weeks.
Eleven seniors preparing to play in their last home game haven't done anything over the last three years but win at Raider Stadium, and that's where SOU (6-3 overall, 6-2 Frontier Conference) will be at 1 p.m. today when it takes on rival Eastern Oregon (4-5, 4-4).
There is no escaping the fact that the aftermath of Southern Oregon's 48-30 loss to the fifth-ranked Carroll Saints a week ago doesn't add up favorably for the Raiders. The five-turnover performance left them in a precarious position: a game behind the first-place Saints in the Frontier Conference standings and down five spots to No. 25 in the NAIA rankings.
The cutoff for the last at-large bid to the NAIA Championship Series last year was No. 13, and No. 16 was the highest ranking for an at-large hopeful that got left out the year before. So all the Raiders can do is win out — and hope that several of the teams ranked ahead of them are afflicted by meltdowns.
Even if Carroll is knocked off by Rocky Mountain today — which would create a three-way tie for first place between Carroll, Rocky and SOU — the first tiebreaker for the Frontier's automatic postseason bid is head-to-head and the second is points allowed in conference play, which favors Carroll. The Saints aren't likely to go down twice, either, as they'll finish the regular season next week at last-place Dickinson State.
None of that matters if SOU doesn't take care of business against Eastern Oregon.
A couple different versions of the Mountaineers have made the rounds this season, but the good one has been most prevalent recently. After starting the season 0-4, EOU has won four of its last five.
The run started with a 35-31 comeback win over Carroll, when EOU ended the game with 21 unanswered points to hand the Saints their only loss of the year, and in the last two weeks the Mountaineers defeated Montana Tech (45-30) and Dickinson State (57-3). In their losses they are allowing 48.2 points per game, and in their wins just 16.
Southern Oregon handled them in La Grande, 73-20, back on Sept. 21. Zach Marshall totalled 126 of SOU's 238 rushing yards and Austin Dodge threw for 355 yards and six touchdown passes, four of which found Matt Retzlaff.
Chris McGinnis-Parker provided the highlights for EOU with 123 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. The senior running back, who is the reigning conference player of the week, has shouldered the load for the Mountaineers with an average of 121.6 rushing yards and 6.8 per carry. He had a season-high 219 with four touchdowns last Saturday against Dickinson State, and is 211 rushing yards away from the single-season EOU record.
SOU has won six straight against Eastern and leads the all-time series 48-14-3. EOU's last win in Ashland, where the Raiders are 11-0 since 2011, was a 9-3 decision on Sept. 2, 2006.
Regardless of postseason inclusion, the Raiders still have a chance to be one of the most successful SOU outfits ever. Two more wins would give them eight for just the seventh time since the program's inception in 1927. The only time they've turned in back-to-back seasons with at least eight wins was in 2001-02 during the Jeff Olson era.