Revenge on Raiders’ minds
ASHLAND — It’s a good bet the Southern Oregon University football team’s focus won’t stray as it heads into Saturday’s matchup at Eastern Oregon.
Even if the hype machine isn’t working as hard as it was a week ago in preparation of second-ranked Carroll.
In the next-to-last game in 2013, Eastern Oregon ended SOU’s 12-game home winning streak and, of greater importance, knocked the Raiders out of postseason contention with a 38-37 decision. Two months earlier, SOU had steamrolled the Mountaineers by 53 points on the latter’s home field.
The chance for the 22nd-ranked Raiders (2-0 overall, 1-0 Frontier Conference) to avenge that loss has arrived. The 1 p.m. contest at Community Stadium will be EOU’s first at home, first in Frontier play and first in three weeks since starting the season with a 45-27 win at Menlo.
Last week’s 38-35 upset of Carroll in the NAIA game of the week made the Raiders 2-0 for the first time since 2010. The last time they were 3-0 was 2001.
THE AFTERMATH: In an effort to stop SOU’s plethora of receiving options, Carroll allowed SOU running back Melvin Mason to slip through the cracks. Mason’s 202 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries made him the NAIA offensive player of the week for the second time in his career. Freshman Keegan Lawrence added 71 yards on nine carries, and SOU had 302 rushing yards in total.
“We gave up 300 yards of rushing. And I don’t know if we’ve done that since I’ve been here,” 16th-year Carroll coach Mike Van Deist told the Helena Independent Record. “It’s very disheartening.”
Through two games, SOU — the NAIA’s preeminent passing team — has rushed 90 times to gain 550 yards and thrown 82 times for 669 yards.
RUINING SUPERSTITION: SOU is now 5-0 against ranked opponents in Ashland since 2011. Carroll, which has won 13 of the last 14 Frontier titles, hadn’t dropped an opener since at least 2004. Citing a superstitious coaching staff, the Saints declined last week to disclose exactly how many straight openers they’d won.
TOUGH DEFENSE: A week after shutting out Menlo through three quarters of a 51-14 win, the Raiders blanked a prolific Carroll offense over the last quarter and a half, allowing them to claw back from a 35-24 deficit. Alex Stork led the team for the second week in a row, getting in on 10 tackles and jumping on a fumble caused by David Weider, who took down Carroll quarterback Mac Roche at SOU’s 29-yard line with three minutes left.
Stork has been in on 18 tackles, Mylz Blake 12 (three for a loss) and Daniel Breaux and Laurence Calcagno 11 each. So far, Raider opponents are 9-for-29 on third-down conversions and have been held scoreless on 19 of 26 possessions.
DODGE WATCH: In two games, Austin Dodge has completed 44 of 65 passes for six touchdowns, no interceptions and 301 yards per game. Dating back to last season, he’s thrown 116 passes with eight TDs since he was last picked off.
Dodge is up to 108 career TD passes, 12 short of the NAIA record, and 12,245 passing yards, 1,143 short of the NAIA record.
Of 11 Raider receivers with catches, Dylan Young leads the way with four TD grabs and 97.5 yards per game. South Medford alum Ryan Retzlaff has a team-high 15 catches with a score and 72.5 yards per game.
ABOUT EASTERN: After finishing 6-4 in the Frontier and 25th in the NAIA poll in 2013, the Mountaineers were picked fourth in this year’s Frontier preseason poll and started one spot out of the NAIA Top 25. Their opener at Menlo was an offensive exhibition, at least late. They trailed 27-23 before scoring 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
First-year starting QB Zach Bartlow completed 23 of 32 attempts for 391 yards and four TDs. In six games last year, he completed 47 of 83 passes with three TDs and as many interceptions. He has EOU’s top receivers back — All-American Jace Billingsley, who averaged 74.5 yards per game in 2013, and Justin Hernandez, who caught six balls for 118 yards and a pair of scores at Menlo.
The EOU run game depends on AJ Prom and TJ Esekielu, who were both backups last year and combined for 24 carries and 116 yards in the first week.
The Mountaineers’ pass defense was especially tough in 2013, with 17 interceptions, including three against Dodge on Nov. 9. The Raiders turned the ball over five times in that game after coughing it up six times the week before. The Mountaineers still feature a couple first-team All-Frontier players from that squad: defensive lineman Kyle Lanoue and linebacker Ryan Watson.
SERIES CONTEXT: SOU leads the all-time series, 48-15-3, and had won six straight until last year’s loss. The Raiders have taken four of the last five in La Grande.
Prior to the 38-37 setback a year ago, the Raiders had put 68, 63 and 73 points on EOU in succession with an average margin of victory of 42.3.