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Raiders prepare for stiff road test

ASHLAND — The Southern Oregon University football team breathed a hard-earned sigh of relief after Saturday's improbable come-from-behind win over Eastern Oregon, but that's where the relaxation period ended.

Up next for the fourth-ranked Raiders (1-1 overall, 1-1 Frontier Conference) is one of their steepest road challenges Saturday in Caldwell, Idaho. A capacity crowd of around 6,000 is expected to watch SOU and College of Idaho (1-2, 1-1) meet at Simplot Stadium for a noon PDT kickoff and will try to help the Coyotes avenge consecutive calamity-driven losses.

C of I opened with a home win of its own against EOU (which was ranked 13th until this week), 40-28. What followed was a 32-31 loss against Pacific in which the Yotes surrendered a 31-12 lead in the fourth quarter, and then a 24-20 loss at Montana Western in which the Yotes scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2:29 left before allowing the Bulldogs to quickly travel 80 yards for the win.

So, instead of the Yotes breaking into the NAIA Top 25 in the program's second season back after a 37-year hiatus, they'll be fighting to stay afloat before playing three of their next four on the road (including an Oct. 24 rematch against SOU at Raider Stadium).

Meanwhile, the Raiders appeared to rediscover their offensive pace and defensive urgency just in time to enter a wide-open Frontier Conference race. Two games in, the top three teams in the preseason poll all have a loss, and Montana Tech and Montana Western are the only teams with perfect 2-0 records.

Last week, SOU scored the final 24 points of a 38-35 win, waiting until the final minute of the third quarter to make its move. The last time the Raiders overcame a 21-point deficit in the second half and won was Nov. 8, 2003 at Lewis & Clark, when they trailed 33-7 before rallying for a 41-40 victory.

SOU and EOU have now played four straight games that have been decided by four points or less, and only four of their previous 15 matchups dating back to the 2000 season had been that tight. SOU's last seven wins at Raider Stadium had all been decided by 17 points or more.

The Frontier and Great Plains were the only conferences with four teams in the NAIA Top 25 when the first poll of the regular season was released this week. Marian, which shared the top spot with SOU in the preseason, received all 15 first-place votes, while the Raiders went to No. 4, which is where they topped out during the 2014 regular season.

Notes

— The Raiders upped their offensive production from 328 yards in Week 1 to 542 yards in Week 2 with 276 yards on the ground (their fourth-highest total in the last five years) and 266 through the air. They averaged 15.5 yards on their first four drives and 74 yards on their last four.

 — All six touchdowns produced by the SOU offense this season have been scored with the rush. They ended last season with 52 passing TDs and 35 rushing.

— After a quiet debut, quarterback Tanner Trosin settled nicely into the SOU offense by completing 17 of 20 passes (without a sack) for 173 yards and rushing 14 times for 116 yards and three TDs. In the last 10 years, no Raider quarterback had rushed for more than 42 yards in a game.

 — The Raider defense limited EOU to a total of 10 yards and one first down on the last three Mountaineer possessions. In the six possessions that preceded those, EOU scored five TDs.

— SOU is 10-6 in Frontier Conference road games since joining the FC in 2012. Carroll is the only team with more conference road wins during that stretch (11-4).

— SOU's leaders in receptions are Zack Davis (10), Matt Retzlaff (9) and Teran Togia (9). Retzlaff has caught at least four passes for at least 50 yards in nine straight games dating back to last season.

 — Raider punter Thomas Giddens ranks sixth in the NAIA in punting yards per attempt at 46.6. Last week he buried EOU at its own 11-yard line twice with 50-plus-yard punts.

 — Marcus Montano, whose 27-yard field goal sealed last week's win, is perfect on three attempts this season (41 yards, 38, 27).

 — SOU's 108.5 penalty yards per game are the fourth-most in the NAIA.