ASHLAND — For practical reasons, Montana State-Northern is the ideal place for the seventh-ranked Southern Oregon to be as it seeks to clinch the outright Frontier Conference title and an automatic berth in the NAIA Championship Series. In the interests of drama and excitement — not so much.
The Raiders (8-0, 8-0 Frontier) have a two-game lead on second-place Montana Tech entering the penultimate game of the regular season, today at 11 a.m. Pacific Time against the last-place Lights (1-8, 0-8) at Blue Pony Stadium. Thanks to last week's 44-19 rout of Montana Western at Raider Stadium, coupled with Tech's last-second loss to Rocky Mountain, SOU has already clinched at least a share of its first conference title since 2012.
Next week's SOU-Tech matchup in Butte won't be devoid of intrigue: The Orediggers likely need to win out just to get an at-large bid to the postseason — they play today at College of Idaho — and SOU is fighting for playoff seeding and to become the first team since 2010 to complete an unbeaten Frontier slate. This week, however, the Raiders will see a Lights team that has lost its last three games by an average of 58.3 points. One of those losses — a 93-19 decision against Montana Tech, in which they gave up an NAIA-record 932 yards — prompted the resignation of their head coach, Aaron Christensen. Jake Eldridge, the team's defensive coordinator, has taken over on an interim basis.
- SOU has won all 10 head-to-head matchups with the Lights in a series that dates back to Oct. 28, 2000. They've played five Frontier games, which the Raiders have won by an average of 39 points, but SOU hasn't visited Havre since Sept. 27, 2014. On that date, former NAIA Player of the Year Austin Dodge established new national records for career passing yards and passing touchdowns.
- The Raiders' 61-0 win over the Lights on Oct. 11, 2003 in Ashland was their most recent shutout.
- SOU established a single-game team record for points with an 82-9 victory against Northern in 2015. The Raiders led that one 41-0 less than two minutes into the second quarter.
- Last year's matchup was a 56-14 SOU triumph on Nov. 5 in Ashland. The Raiders had nine sacks in the game, leading to Northern's net total of negative-17 rushing yards.
- The last time the Lights were in the rankings, at No. 18, they were knocked out by a 55-28 loss to SOU on Oct. 19, 2013. Since then, they've gone 5-41.
NAIA Top 25: Due to a lack of upsets around the country, SOU is No. 7 in the NAIA coaches' poll for the fourth week in a row. For the third week in a row, there was no shift among the top 10. Montana Tech was the victim of the most dramatic change in the rankings, dropping from 11th to 17th.
The NAIA Championship Series field consists of 16 teams, meaning SOU will likely need to remain among the top eight to host a first-round game on Nov. 18. If the Raiders can sneak into the top four, they'd likely have hosting rights through the first two rounds. They're currently among eight undefeated teams left in the NAIA; at this time last year, there were three.
- Raider quarterback Tanner Trosin was voted the NAIA Offensive Player of the Week on Monday following his 33-of-47, 502-yard passing performance against UMW that resulted in three TDs and no interceptions. It marked the fifth 500-yard performance in SOU history and Trosin's 10th in a row with 300-plus through the air. He moved to No. 4 on SOU's career TD pass list with 42, and he moved to the top of this year's NAIA leaderboard in passing yards per game (360.9) and total offense per game (386.5). He's also 14th in pass efficiency, having thrown just three interceptions compared to 20 TDs.
- The Raiders have an opportunity to start 9-0 for the first time in team history. (The 1946 team capped its season at 8-0.) And if they can hold a ninth straight opponent under 30 points, it'd be the first time since 1982.
- In the NAIA ranks, SOU is first in sacks per game (5.1), second in passing offense (360.9 yards), 12th in scoring defense (20.5 points), 16th in total yards (472.1) and 20th in scoring offense (36.8).
- Last week the Raiders were held to one sack, which belonged to James Porter. He became the sixth Raider to reach three sacks this season; Sean Rogers' 9 rank third nationally.
- Bronsen Ader and Jordan Suell are up to four 100-yard receiving games apiece after last week's win, in which Jason Shelley also recorded his first. It was the first time since 2014 that three Raider receivers hit the 100-yard mark in the same game.
- Ader's 116.2 receiving yards per game rank fourth in the NAIA, while Suell's 84.9 rank 24th.
- With six tackles last week, linebacker Isiah Carter shot to fourth place on SOU's all-time list, bringing his total to 288.
- Rey Vega has rushed for three TDs over SOU's last two games and averaged four yards per carry on 24 tries.