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SOU Raiders seek first football win

ASHLAND — Being close hasn’t counted for any W’s in the win column for Southern Oregon Universtiy’s football team.

After suffering their third consecutive three-point loss in Frontier Conference play last week at Montana Tech, the Raiders (0-4 overall, 0-3 FC) return home on Saturday in search of their first victory against the Carroll (Mont.) (2-1, 2-1).

The Saints are working to leave behind some hard times of their own — three straight losing records after winning 14 titles in 15 season — under first-year head coach Troy Purcell, and have done so successfully the last two weeks with back-to-back blowout wins over Rocky Mountain (Mont.) and Montana State-Northern at home.

Kickoff at Raider Stadium is set for 1 p.m.

SERIES NOTES: SOU is unbeaten in four Frontier games against Carroll in Ashland and has won four straight overall for a 7-5 series lead. Eight of the first nine games between the teams were decided by less than a touchdown; SOU has won the last three by an average of 23 points.

The Raiders took last year’s meeting in Helena, 27-0, with their first shutout since 2003. Carroll was blanked at home for the first time in at least 20 years, totaling 50 first-half yards and 199 for the game. It marked the Raiders’ 16th consecutive conference win and made them 4-0, but they’ve dropped eight of 10 since.

The Raiders are 6-3 against the Saints in Frontier matchups and 1-2 in the NAIA Championship Series. On their way to the 2014 national title, the Raiders won a 45-42 quarterfinal shootout at then-top-ranked Carroll by overcoming a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter through a blizzard.

This will be the first matchup between the teams in which neither is ranked.

KNUTZ AT THE HELM: Raider quarterback Wyatt Hutchinson had to be helped off the field after taking a hard hit on SOU’s penultimate offensive play at Montana Tech and is expected to be out this week.

That means Chase Knutz, a sophomore from Hermiston, will make his first start. After redshirting one season at Portland State, Knutz joined the Raiders in 2018 and was in a neck-and-neck battle for the starting job with Hutchinson throughout spring practice and fall camp.

In four appearances since then, he’s completed 8 of 15 attempts for 66 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.

During his prep days at Hermiston, he threw for 80 career touchdowns and was named the OSAA Class 5A player of the year in 2014 after accumulating 2,797 passing yards as a senior.

He’ll lead an offense that ranks 22nd in the NAIA in passing yards per game (247) but is generating an average of just 76.2 rushing yards.

HOME HISTORY: In games played at Raider Stadium, SOU has an all-time record of 102-60, including 24-7 in Frontier contests and 15-2 against unranked FC opponents.

Five of those Frontier losses have come against Eastern Oregon, the other two against Montana Tech.

The Raiders haven’t lost back-to-back home games in the same season since 2010; their last appearance in Ashland was a 24-21 setback to EOU.

BRIEFLY: Craig Contreras Jr. had another strong week punting the ball at Montana Tech, amassing 303 yards on seven attempts with a long of 60. His average of 41.7 yards ranks 13th nationally. The Raiders ranked among the top-10 in four of the previous five seasons.

The last time the Raiders had three straight games decided by seven points or fewer was 1996. They’re attempting to avoid their first 0-5 start since 2005.

Devin Holden became the third Raider to record an interception last week with the first of his career and was also credited with two pass break-ups. His efforts helped the Raider defense stop the Orediggers on six consecutive drives and shut them out in the second half. Michael Chisley Jr. remained tied for second on the national leaderboard with three picks.

Jordan Suell needs one more touchdown catch to become the ninth individual in team history with 20 after grabbing his fourth of the season last week. Despite leading the Raiders in average reception yardage (66.8) and yards per catch (19.1), the defensive attention he’s received has resulted in him being held to seven catches in SOU’s last three games. Christian Graney has pulled in 17 during that span and has a team-high 21 overall.

August Forrest III recorded 10 tackles at Tech, including two for losses and one sack. He leads all Raiders with five tackles for losses and is the only one with more than one sack (two).

Junior linebacker Collin Crown had nine more tackles against the Diggers, and his average of 10.3 in conference games is the second-highest among all FC players. Collectively the Raiders are giving up 5.6 yards per play in FC action, which ranks fourth of eight teams.

Hutchinson’s absence figures to be especially hard on the running game. He’s averaged 48.5 yards on the ground, and no other Raider has netted more than 26 rushing yards in a game.

COMING UP: The Raiders have four of their next five at home, including the only night game of the season on Oct. 12 against Rocky Mountain, homecoming on Oct. 26 against College of Idaho, and SOU Sports Hall of Fame Weekend on Nov. 2 against Montana Tech.

At halftime against Carroll, members of the 2019 Raider softball team will be presented with their NAIA championship rings.

ABOUT CARROLL: Troy Purcell was hired in December to become the Saints’ head coach when Mike Van Diest retired after 20 seasons and six national championships. Purcell, who also serves as the team’s offensive coordinator, is a Carroll alum (1986-90) and was an assistant at University of Idaho from 2016-18, most recently serving as special teams coordinator and tight ends coach. His staff is almost entirely new.

The Raiders will face a run-heavy offense for the third week in a row: Carroll ranks sixth in the NAIA in rushing yards per game (260) and averages 5.8 per play. Freshman Matthew Burgess (125.3 per game) has started his career with three straight 100-yard games, and senior Major Ali (53.0) has totaled 2,346 rushing yards in his career.

Redshirt-freshman QB Devan Bridgewater is completing just 49 percent of his attempts, but he’s putting up 243 yards with six TDs compared to one pick, and he’s only been sacked twice. Junior Shane Sipes — who has 1,508 yards and 13 TDs in 24 career games — is again the receiver to watch.

The Saints returned seven starters from a defensive unit that allowed 324 yards per game in 2018, the best mark in the Frontier. They’re giving up only 3.1 yards per rush and have five takeaways, all interceptions.