Raiders ride high heading into Salem
SALEM — The Southern Oregon University football team is hoping for a more pleasant trip to the Willamette Valley on Saturday when they square off with struggling Willamette University.
The Raiders (2-1), who jumped up one spot to 10th nationally in the NAIA rankings, hope to build on its 14-7 win over Humboldt State last Saturday that followed a road loss to Linfield the previous week.
The Bearcats (1-3), the defending Northwest Conference champions, are coming off their third consecutive loss, the school's longest losing streak in 10 years.
The SOU running attack continued to dominate the action with another strong performance from redshirt-freshman tailback Dusty McGrorty.
McGrorty, the former Class 2A Player of the Year, rumbled through the Lumberjack defense for a career-high 195 yards on 38 carries, including the five-yard, game-winning score late in the contest.
With the offense finding its groove the defensive side of the ball suffered a huge loss.
Senior free safety and co-captain Jenner Yriarte sustained a fractured and dislocated ankle in the third quarter and may be lost for the season.
I'm heartbroken for Jenner, said Raider coach Jeff Olson in a release from the school. But as a team, we talk about overcoming adversity each week, and losing Jenner means an opportunity for someone else to step up.
Yriarte, who suffered a season-ending elbow injury in Game — of the 1998 campaign, came back to earn second-team All-American honors last season and opted to put graduation on hold in order to utilize a medical redshirt year of eligibility.
SOU head trainer Phil Pfifer believes Yriarte, who underwent ankle surgery Sunday morning, might be able to return for postseason action should the Raiders qualify. Former Ashland High standout Mario Alcala and Western Oregon transfer Brad Kudlac of Grants Pass will fill the void.
Also worrying the SOU defense will be the frenetic running attack of the Bearcats.
The Raiders, ranked fourth in the NAIA this week for total defense, has allowed an average of 91 rushing yards per game while Willamette's fly offense has produced an average of 257 yards on the ground.
The Bearcats, who have scored only twice in the past 12 quarters, are led by senior flanker Andy Miguel, one of five Bearcats with 133 or more net rushing yards in four games. He leads the team with a 72-yard per game rushing clip.
The fly offense presents a big problem because they are extremely disciplined and well-coached, said Olson. They also have an outstanding, quick and athletic defensive group.
Willamette's passing attack has produced only 206 yards this season, however, despite the presence of veteran quarterbacks Bucky Rivera and Luke Atwood.
Defensively, the Bearcats are limiting their opponents to 270 yards per contest with All-American candidate Eric Thomson at tackle and linebacker Andy Eckley leading the way.
Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. at Charles McCulloch Stadium in Salem.