The Southern Oregon Raiders haven't experienced many lows since Craig Howard took over the program in 2011.
ASHLAND — The Southern Oregon Raiders haven't experienced many lows since Craig Howard took over the program in 2011. But the team they face Saturday was responsible for one of the few.
On Sept. 7, in Dillon, Mont., the Raiders led Montana Western 34-24 and had the ball at midfield with about eight minutes to go. SOU fans who have grown accustomed to watching the Raiders pick apart opposing defenses in the second half probably thought the game was essentially over at that point, but the Bulldogs did something unexpected. They stopped the Raiders and drove 72 yards for a touchdown, then stopped the Raiders again and drove another 72 yards for the go-ahead score.
Southern Oregon still had 1 minute, 23 seconds to pull off the comeback — plenty of time given the Raiders' explosive offense — but Montana Western managed yet another defensive stop to secure the 38-34 shocker.
The loss dropped SOU to 0-2 in the Frontier Conference standings and all but assured that the Raiders would not be ranked when the regular season's first NAIA Top 25 coaches' poll was released nine days later.
The rematch is set to start at 1 p.m. at Raider Stadium, where SOU has won 10 in a row.
The two teams have gone in opposite directions since that early-season game. The Raiders (5-2, 5-1 Frontier), ranked 22nd in the latest coaches' poll, lost in overtime to Division I-FCS Sacramento State the following week but have run off four straight league wins by an average of 38 points. Then, in a surprise announcement, SOU learned on Tuesday that its season-opening loss to Rocky Mountain will instead go down as a win thanks to Rocky's forfeit. Rocky Mountain may appeal the NAIA's ruling, but as it stands now the Raiders are tied with No. 7 Carroll (6-1, 5-1) for first place in the conference standings, one game ahead of Rocky Mountain with four league games left for each team.
The situation isn't as rosy for the Bulldogs. Montana Western (3-3, 3-3), which was ranked as high as 15th following its 3-0 start, enters the game on a three-game losing streak and is in a major rut offensively, having scored only one touchdown in its last two games — a 20-0 drubbing at Eastern Oregon and a 31-7 setback to Carroll.
Montana Western's hopes for a season series sweep may rest on running back Sam Rutherford. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound true freshman terrorized the Raiders in the last meeting, rushing for 185 yards and three touchdowns on only 11 carries. Rutherford averages 135 yards rushing and 6.4 yards per attempt for the Bulldogs, who rank 24th in the nation in rushing.
Montana Western's defense, particularly its secondary, also played well in the first meeting, picking off SOU quarterback Austin Dodge twice (Dodge has thrown only five interceptions on the season) and holding the Raiders to 494 yards, their lowest output in the last two seasons. That defense is led by senior linebacker Kasey Griffith, who ranks sixth in the nation with 69 tackles, and sophomore linebacker Joe Coker, who is 15th with 61. Junior lineman Philip Selin leads the Frontier Conference with seven sacks.
Dodge has been red hot since the last meeting between the two teams. The junior leads the nation in passing yards (2,939), passing touchdowns (34) and is second in pass efficiency. He's also earned the NAIA offensive player of the week award two weeks in a row, giving him four for his career.
SOU has three receivers with more than 500 yards receiving, led by Ryan Retzlaff (815 yards, nine touchdowns).
Zach Marshall (389 rushing yards, three TDs) and Melvin Mason (384 rushing yards, four TDs) lead the Raiders' rushing attack.
The game will be televised by KDRV on channel 12-2 and will also be available via live streaming video at http://client.stretchinternet.com/client/sou.portal#. Kids ages 12-and-under will be admitted for free.