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No. 12 Raiders meet MWU in opening home game

ASHLAND — Few expected Southern Oregon to come out completely clean on the end of season-opening excursions that took it to the home fields of one of the Frontier Conference's best teams and a member of the Big Sky.

And while there are reasons to be troubled by the Raiders' 0-2 start, their No. 12 ranking is evidence that the NAIA still respects them like a team that's advanced to the last two national championship games. Now they just have to play like one.

Raider Stadium will fill up for the first time this year when SOU (0-1 Frontier) hosts 22nd-ranked Montana Western (2-1 overall, 1-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday. With all but two Frontier teams already wearing at least one loss — including all four teams that appeared in the preseason NAIA Top 25 poll — it may be too early for must-win chatter. But with a Sept. 24 matchup at 21st-ranked Carroll (Mont.) looming and the margin for error shrinking, this is about as close as it gets.

Series notes

— The Raiders are 6-1 all-time against UMW in a series that dates back to the first round of the 2003 NAIA playoffs, a matchup that SOU won, 30-12. SOU is unbeaten in four games against the Bulldogs at home, winning by an average margin of 28.8 points.

— Last year's meeting on Oct. 10 in Dillon, Mont., was a 37-30 SOU overtime victory that dropped UMW out of an early four-way tie for first place. Sean Tow's 8-yard TD rush (his third of the game) put the Raiders ahead on the first possession of the extra session, and four straight goal-line stops on UMW's turn ended it. The Bulldogs were ranked 16th at the time, and the win stands as SOU's only one on the road against a ranked opponent in Frontier play.

Tow-A-Bunga!

Senior running back Sean Tow has spent most of his career as one of the most effective backups in the nation. Now listed at No. 1 on the depth chart, he's found the end zone once in each of SOU's first two games.

Dating back to last season, he's scored eight touchdowns in his last six regular-season games. And despite missing a combined nine games in 2014 and '15, his 23 career rushing TDs are tied for fourth on SOU's career list with Al Barnes (1959-62), and his 5.4 yard-per-carry average ranks seventh.

Record watch

With another TD reception last week and four on the season, former South Medford player Matt Retzlaff is up to 31 for his career — two shy of matching Dylan Young's SOU record. He's also now tied for third place on the all-time Raider list for total touchdowns (38).

With 2,646 receiving yards, he needs 137 more to catch his brother, Ryan, for second place on that list, and he needs 181 more to catch Young for the record. At his current pace, it won't take long: In five games dating back to last year's NAIA quarterfinals, he's caught 40 passes for seven TDs and an average of 112.8 yards per game.

About MWU

— Sam Rutherford, an All-Frontier running back, is averaging 4.4 yards per carry and 113.3 per game with four TDs.

— Quarterback J.D. Ferris had the best game of his career against SOU in 2015 with 371 passing yards, though the Raiders got to him for five sacks. He's currently completing 49 percent of his throws for 169 yards per game.