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Raiders reach for .500 today against Lights

ASHLAND ' With a playoff berth virtually out of the question, the Southern Oregon University football team will work toward finishing above .500 today against Montana State-Northern.

Kickoff at Blue Pony Stadium in Havre, Mont., is scheduled for noon Pacific time.

The Raiders fell to 2-3 after a 51-10 loss at San Diego last Saturday but have an excellent shot at getting back to .500 this weekend despite the 24-hour one-way bus trip.

SOU has dominated its series against the Lights (0-4), winning all four games handily, including the past three by an average score of 50-2.

Last year, SOU entered the game a week removed from a devastating loss to San Diego. Southern took out its frustration on the Lights, winning 61-0 to kick off a solid 5-1 finish to what had been a downer of a season.

— In other words, there's nothing like a game against Montana State-Northern to give the Raiders a confidence boost. Still, that's not enough to make Raider head coach Jeff Olson comfortable.

The way our season has gone, I don't think we can rely on the past whatsoever, he says. It's time to start from scratch and work our way back up. So, as far as I'm concerned, every game on our schedule is the most important game of the season.

Last week's loss represented the first blemish on what had been a spectacular run for the Raider defense. SOU is holding opponents to 303 yards per game ' 152 on the ground and 151 through the air.

While it's been stingy, giving up mainly short gains, the SOU secondary has not provided much in the way of game-breaking plays. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 54 percent of their passes (76-for-141) with six touchdowns and only one interception.

That's an unfavorable line from SOU's perspective when compared to the numbers Raider quarterbacks are putting up: 83-for-161 (52 percent), five touchdowns, 11 interceptions.

Brandon Griffith will get the start at quarterback against the Lights, says Olson, but added that Boomer Marshall will see plenty of playing time as well.

Olson is looking for some major improvement at the quarterback spot. Last week, four quarterbacks ' the others were Justin Despotakis and Dan Downey ' combined to complete just 15 of 33 passes with three interceptions.

Of course, it didn't help that they were pressured all day.

It was just a total team meltdown, says Olson.

Testing SOU's defense this week will be Montana State-Northern sophomore quarterback Kyle Samson. Sampson ranks second in the Frontier Conference for total offense (181.5 yards per game), including 62 rushing yards per game. His running ability should test SOU's linebacker corps, which is spearheaded by leading tackler David Zauher.

The Lights are in the midst of another frustrating season in the always-tough Frontier, which includes two-time defending NAIA national champion Carroll College.

The Lights' average margin of defeat is 36 points, and they've only managed to score five touchdowns.

Their defense has been the major culprit, giving up 433 yards per contest.

Joe Zavala is sports editor of the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 482-3456.