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Fifth-ranked SOU takes on last-place Tech

Fifth-ranked Southern Oregon University visits last-place Montana Tech in a Frontier Conference football game today in Butte, Mont.

Kickoff is at 11 a.m. Pacific in hostile Alumni Coliseum.

A win would tie the Raiders (8-1 overall, 7-1 Frontier) with three other teams for the most in program history and set up a Nov. 15 regular-season finale with Eastern Oregon at Raider Stadium in which SOU would be playing be for a conference co-championship at worst.

Second-ranked Carroll, which is tied with SOU in first place, has home games against Rocky Mountain and College of Idaho remaining.

The Raiders and Montana Tech (1-8, 1-8) were Frontier co-champs in 2012 after splitting the season series. Last year, the Diggers were picked to finish second in the conference but floundered, losing 59-32 in Ashland and 31-10 at home on their way to a 3-7 record.

The 2014 season has been even worse for the Diggers, rivaling only their 3-8 campaign of 2011 for the most tumultuous in recent history.

While they’ve lost seven straight (their only win was against Montana State-Northern), they’ve let several potential wins slip away. They fell 45-39 against Rocky (a game they led 36-7), then 37-34 at Northern (a game they led 34-23), then 20-12 at Carroll, then 31-20 last week at Eastern Oregon (a game they led 20-7).

HEAT CHECK: Southern Oregon, meanwhile, has avoided any chance of those types of meltdowns by putting up crooked numbers early. Two weeks ago at College of Idaho, it scored touchdowns on each of their first six possessions. Last Saturday against Rocky Mountain, it marched into the end zone on five of six first-half drives.

SOU averaged 652 yards of offense in those games — 423.5 passing, 228.5 rushing — and is at 568 per game for the season, which ranks second in the NAIA.

Austin Dodge is at 358.6 passing yards per game, completing 65.5 percent of his passes for 31 TDs and six interceptions. With 55 more completions he’ll have 1,150 for his career and the NAIA record to himself.

He has eight TD passes in the last two games, with four going to Dylan Young and three to Ryan Retzlaff. Young leads the NAIA in TD catches (15) and is third in receiving yards per game (122.3). With 26 TD catches since joining the Raiders last season, he is two away from matching Martin Turner’s 31-year-old program mark.

Sean Tow recently stole the spotlight for SOU’s ground game. He’s averaging 6.7 yards per rush in six games this season, but last week went for a career-high 155 on 16 carries and has six TDs in his last four games. Keegan Lawrence (7.7 yards/rush) and Melvin Mason (6 yards/rush) haven’t slowed much either.

ABOUT TECH: The Diggers will run out of a pedestrian yet balanced offense that’s putting up 314 yards per game, with 175 of those coming through the air. Running back Pat Hansen is their top threat at 89 rushing yards per contest and 4.4 per carry, while quarterbacks Dawson Reardon and Andrew Loudenback have combined to complete just 49.6 percent of their passes with 15 interceptions compared to 14 TDs.

Their defense is allowing 417 yards per game, equally vulnerable to the run and pass. Eastern Oregon decided to punish them with the rush last week on a wet day — carrying the ball 58 times for 259 yards and passing it just 11 times. Reardon went 3-for-14 and Hansen rushed for 166 yards.