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SOU is wary of ex-Grizzly

ASHLAND -- There will be a dangerous fly on the loose today at Raider Stadium when Southern Oregon meets Willamette University in non-conference football.

SOU's homecoming game is scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m.

The Raiders are 3-3 overall and 1-1 in the Columbia Football Association.

Willamette (4-2), featuring former Ashland High receiver-running back Tim Blair in the Bearcats' fly offense, will command major concern from SOU's defense, according to head coach Jeff Olson.

Blair is the fly guy who comes into motion and either takes the ball behind the quarterback or fakes taking it, says Olson. He's also a dangerous receiver because of his speed.

A lot of scrambling goes on when you're trying to decide who has the ball in that fly offense. It can be confusing and certainly dangerous.

Willamette rode the fly offense and a solid defense all the way to the NAIA national championship game last season, losing to Findlay University of Ohio, 14-7.

Blair, a 5-foot-9, 160-pound junior, has been hobbled by a pulled quadricep muscle for most of the season. But he's still managed to run for 103 yards and catch seven passes for 105 yards and a touchdown through six games.

The word is Tim Blair is healthy this week, and that will make them even more dangerous, says Olson, who tried to recruit the scatback out of Ashland High three years ago.

Blair is complemented in the fly by bullish, 265-pound fullback Ardel Bailey and a horde of swift receivers the Bearcats shuttle in and out.

Ardel has rushed for 430 yards on 57 carries and three touchdowns.

Freshman quarterback Luke Atwood, a former McNary High player, triggers the offense.

They have a lot of weapons, says Olson. All of those slotbacks and receivers, like Blair, are real threats.

Willamette is off to a 4-2 start, including a 1-1 mark in the Northwest Conference under new coach Mark Speckman. The Bearcats lost at Linfield, 20-19, last Saturday.

Speckman replaced Dan Hawkins, who is now an assistant at Boise State University.

Under Speckman, last year's offensive coordinator, the Bearcats are averaging 436 yards of total offense, including 322 rushing.

Meanwhile, Southern Oregon continues to rank first in the Columbia Football Association in rushing behind individual leader Griff Yates.

The Raiders are averaging 241.8 yards rushing per game, 176.7 by Yates. He has 1,060 yards on 162 carries.

Yates was limited to 116 yards by Central Washington last week and no longer leads the nation.

However, with two touchdowns against Central Washington, Yates has become the school's career leader in scoring with 222 points. The junior from Coquille has also become the first SOU running back in school history to rush for back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.

After taking a 14-0 lead against Central Washington, the Raiders gave up 31 straight points to the Wildcats.

The kids played their hearts out, but Central Washington was the better team on Saturday, says Olson. But I'd like to get another shot at them in the playoffs.

Central was very physical, and they did some things that frustrated us. For instance, our backs weren't able to cut back much because their second level of defense was there to prevent it most of the time.

That was frustrating to Griff (Yates), who has gotten a lot of his yards that way.

SOU can't afford another loss, CFA or out of conference, to make the national playoffs, Olson says. Our attitude is good, and I think we can win them all, says Olson. But this will be a tough game. Willamette is confident and they expect to win.

Olson says the Raiders are injury-free entering today's game.

I'm pleased with the kids and their attitudes, says Olson. We're 3-3, but we're not giving up.

We need to stop making mistakes and turnovers. In two of our last three games, we've turned the ball over 10 times. We can't do that against Willamette.