SOU sets sights on ending football skid
ASHLAND — Two Frontier Conference losses by six points combined have the Southern Oregon University football team approaching must-win territory a couple months earlier than it had hoped.
The margin for error will be thin again on Saturday when SOU (0-3 overall, 0-2 Frontier Conference) visits Montana Tech (1-1, 1-1) for a noon PDT kickoff at Memorial Coliseum.
Following a 900-mile bus trip, the Raiders will be tasked with stopping one of the NAIA’s top running backs, senior Jed Fike, who has compiled 3,753 rushing yards and 39 rushing touchdowns in his career. He scored three times last week as the Orediggers pocketed a 35-10 win at Eastern Oregon.
The Raiders showed signs of heading in the right direction in last Saturday’s 41-38 loss at College of Idaho but were held back by five errant snaps and a rushing defense that surrendered 207 yards.
In the previous week’s 24-21 loss to Eastern Oregon, it was three turnovers, a blocked field goal, a blocked punt and a last-minute defensive lapse that doomed them.
The Raiders went to Butte under similar circumstances last October, taking with them a three-game losing streak. Trailing 24-7, they scored 24 straight points in the fourth quarter before Tech’s Jet Campbell hit Trevor Hoffman for the game-tying TD with 29 seconds left and the game-winner in overtime, giving the Orediggers a 38-31 win.
SOU is 7-6 overall against the Orediggers, including records of 6-4 in Frontier play and 4-3 in Butte. Prior to last year’s loss, the Raiders had won three straight on Tech’s home field.
The teams also met last season in Ashland, where on Sept. 15 the Raiders capped their 44-12 win with four unanswered touchdowns and totaled 276 rushing yards.
Top 25 Watch
SOU was No. 20 in the NAIA Top 25 preseason coaches’ poll but dropped out in the first edition of the regular season, which was released on Monday.
With wins over EOU, SOU and Montana Tech, College of Idaho (3-0) went up four spots to No. 11. Montana Western (2-0), which has defeated Carroll and Montana State-Northern, went from 25th to 20th, while Rocky Mountain (2-1) dropped just one spot to No. 24 despite getting thumped last week at Carroll, 44-7.
Defending champion Morningside (Iowa), now 2-0, remained the unanimous No. 1.
With four home games in a five-game span coming up, a win at Tech would leave the door open for the Raiders to jump back into the Frontier Conference race.
The stretch starts on Sept. 28 against Carroll and also includes the only night game on SOU’s schedule (Oct. 12 vs. Rocky Mountain), Homecoming Weekend (Oct. 26 vs. College of Idaho) and SOU Sports Hall of Fame Weekend (Nov. 2 vs. Montana Tech).
After picking off two passes against Eastern Oregon, senior corner Michael Chisley Jr. had a 55-yard interception return for a TD at C of I — the first pick-six for a Raider defensive back since 2014. Only two players have had more than three interceptions in Frontier play during a single season: Karrington Jones (5) in 2015 and Josh Leff (4) in 2012 and 2013.
In a 25-of-33 display against the Yotes, Wyatt Hutchinson logged the highest passing total (351 yards) and second-highest rushing total (97 yards) of his career. He surpassed the 3,000-yard mark in passing, bringing his total to 3,117. In 13 career starts, he has 16 passing and seven rushing TDs, and he’s completing 64 percent of his passes in 2019 compared to 56 percent last year.
Christian Graney last week became the first Raider with a 10-reception game since Bronsen Ader in 2017, catching 10 passes for 93 yards. The sophomore leads the Raiders with 19 receptions. Senior Jason Shelley added 94 reception yards and his 10th career TD catch against the Yotes.
Junior linebacker Collin Crown leads with Raiders with 29 tackles and has tallied 11 in back-to-back games. The Raiders are led in tackles for losses by August Forrest III (three) and Jake Regino (3), but as a team have 18 fewer tackles for losses (15) than their opponents (33). They’ve also recorded five sacks and allowed 12; the last time they finished with fewer sacks than their opponents was 2010.
The Raiders are looking to avoid their first 0-4 start since 2006. They’re 0-2 in the Frontier for the first time, excepting 2013, when their season-opening loss to Rocky later turned into a forfeit win. That year, they started 0-3 (including a loss at Sacramento State) and won their next five by an average margin of 37.4 points.
Rushing offense and defense represents the Raiders’ biggest problem area: They’re averaging 2.4 yards per carry and giving up 5.9. Setting aside quarterback sacks and plays foiled by bad snaps, they’re averaging 4.8 yards per carry and giving up 6.2.
About Montana Tech
Before getting their first win at EOU, the Orediggers opened with a 28-14 home loss to College of Idaho which they trailed 21-0 the opening minute of the fourth quarter. On that day, they gave up 347 rushing yards and 7.4 per carry.
After winning back-to-back Frontier titles, the Orediggers have gone 12-10 since the start of 2017. They were picked to finish fourth in the standings this season, which is Chuck Morrell’s ninth as head coach.
Fike — who played his freshman year at Dickinson State (N.D.) and the last three at Tech — has rushed for 100-plus yards in 16 of 21 career Frontier games. He had 167 on 29 carries last week, and 165 on 26 carries in his last matchup with SOU.
The Orediggers have run on 68 percent of their plays from scrimmage but have a second-year starting quarterback in Jet Campbell, who is completing 61 percent of his attempts without an interception. The aforementioned Hoffman is back with a team-high 14 catches and two TDs.
Tech’s defense had a bounce-back performance last week at EOU, where it allowed only 232 yards. First-year coordinator Nick Brautigam is working with an experience group of defensive backs, including all-conference corner Damaree Harris.