Playoff position on line for Raiders
ASHLAND — The Eastern Oregon football team has long been out of the hunt for its first berth in the NAIA postseason, but that won't stop the Mountaineers from trying to find consolation in spoiling Southern Oregon University's fun — again.
The eighth-ranked Raiders (7-2 overall, 7-2 Frontier) and Mountaineers (4-6, 4-5) will end the regular season Saturday with a noon kickoff at Community Stadium in La Grande. The change of scenery could actually be refreshing for SOU, which was an upset victim of EOU's in its regular-season home finales the last two years at Raider Stadium.
In 2013, a 38-37 Mountaineers win extinguished the 25th-ranked Raiders' already slim playoff hopes in their penultimate game.
In 2014, a 31-27 Mountaineers win dropped the Raiders from fourth to eighth in the final NAIA Top 25 poll, ultimately costing them a couple home playoff games but serving as fuel on their drive to a national championship.
The Raiders' wake-up calls came earlier this year. After losing the season-opener at Carroll, they fell behind EOU 35-14 entering the fourth quarter of their second game and had to mount an unthinkable rally to win, 38-35.
That was the beginning of a seven-game win streak, which ended last week in Ashland when Montana Tech clinched a share of the Frontier Conference title in Ashland, 21-17.
A loss to the Mountaineers would certainly cost the Raiders their right to a first-round home game Nov. 21 in the 16-team NAIA Championship Series, and could cost them a spot in the playoffs altogether.
Twelve conference champions get in automatically if they are ranked in the top 20, and the next highest-ranked teams fill out the rest of the field as at-large choices. As of now, five teams on top of their respective conferences are outside of the top 16 in the rankings, including three outside the top 20.
The final poll will be released Sunday along with first-round playoff pairings.
Win, and instead of sweating the Raiders can gear up to host a postseason game for the second year in a row after going 11 years at Raider Stadium without one. Tickets would go on sale Monday.
AROUND THE FRONTIER: In Saturday's only other Frontier Conference game relevant to the postseason, No. 6 Montana Tech (8-1) hosts No. 10 Montana Western (7-2). Should Western pull off the upset and SOU take care of business, the result would be the first three-way tie for the Frontier title since 2004.
The tiebreaker for the Frontier's automatic bid to the playoffs would go to the team that has allowed the fewest points in conference play. Up to this point, Western has allowed 153, Tech has allowed 159 and SOU has allowed 206.
SERIES HISTORY: Saturday's contest will mark the 70th all-time between SOU and EOU. The Raiders lead the series, 50-16-3, and are 22-10-2 playing in La Grande. The last time EOU defeated SOU in La Grande was Nov. 15, 2008.
The last four meetings have all been decided by four points or less with both teams winning two apiece. Prior to that, SOU had won six straight, including the previous three by an average of 42.3 points.
SOU's last trip to La Grande on Sept. 13, 2014, was a 35-31 win that SOU didn't lead until Melvin Mason's touchdown with 2:11 left. The Raiders also survived an EOU dropped pass in the end zone with two seconds left.
This year's first meeting was highlighted by SOU quarterbackTanner Trosin's breakout performance. He came off the bench to complete 17 of 20 passes for 173 yards and rushed 14 times for 116 yards and three TDs. He's started every game since.
QUICK HITS: SOU has not lost consecutive games since the beginning of the 2013 season. Its average margin of victory following losses over the past four years is 33 points.
Last week, AJ Cooper became the sixth Raider to intercept a pass this season. The Raiders have 11 picks as a team, led byKarrington Jones' five (which ranks fourth in the NAIA).
Trosin has rushed for an average of 78.3 yards the last three weeks. In the previous three weeks, he averaged 32.7 yards.
Teran Togia now leads the Raiders in catches with 31 for 303 yards and four TDs. Adonis Griffin (27/411/3) has made catches of 40 yards or longer in three of his last five games.
All-conference receiver Matt Retzlaff returned to the Raider lineup last week with three catches for 48 yards. Battling injuries, he had missed three of the previous four games.
With his touchdown run last week, Mason is up to 36 rushing TDs and 42 total TDs for his career. He's scored in seven of SOU's nine games this season.
ABOUT EASTERN: The Mountaineers have alternated wins and losses the last eight weeks and are coming off a 21-10 win over College of Idaho, which made them 2-2 at home.
They're led by all-conference running back Jace Billingsley, who has rushed 64 times for 376 yards in his last two games against SOU. He ranks second in the NAIA in all-purpose yards (1,777).
With Billingsley banged up, Alfred Gross (who did not appear in EOU's first meeting with SOU) rushed 17 times for 115 yards last week.
Zach Bartlow is completing 61 percent of his passes for 227 yards per game with 16 passing TDs and six interceptions. He's run for eight TDs.
Defensively, the Mountaineers are giving up 392 yards per game and have been outscored 86-17 in first quarters.