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Raiders pivot again, will play at Autzen this Saturday

SOU moves its postponed home opener against Montana State-Northern to Eugene

ASHLAND — The Southern Oregon University football team dealt with smoky conditions all throughout preseason camp, and it’s been no different now that the 2021 season has begun.

For the second straight week, air quality issues in Ashland have forced a change in the Raiders’ schedule. After seeing last Saturday’s home opener against Montana State-Northern postponed a week due to unhealthy air quality brought on by wildfires, there’s a new backup plan to the original backup plan, with SOU and MSU-Northern now set to play at Autzen Stadium in Eugene this weekend.

Kickoff is scheduled for 12 p.m. Saturday. In accordance with an agreement with University of Oregon officials, no fans will be allowed at the game as Lane County deals with a surge in COVID-19 cases.

“We’d love to play at home, but given all of the variables that are in place from day to day, it’s just nice to have something locked in,” SOU head coach Charlie Hall said. “We all know darn well that you can make a plan and then something can happen in the next 72 hours. ... I guess there’s a little bit of skepticism in my voice just because it’s been that kind of fall, but I feel good about the fact that there’s a plan in place, our kids are excited and we’re just looking forward to playing.”

The decision was made Wednesday so that MSU-Northern could begin the thousand-mile drive from Havre, Mont., according to a press release. MSU-Northern didn’t have another bye week on its schedule so the Lights’ trip to Oregon had to happen this weekend, which was supposed to be a bye week for the entire Frontier Conference.

SOU (0-1), which dropped its season opener 42-28 to Rocky Mountain College on Aug. 28, has continued to adapt to the smoky conditions over the course of the last five weeks since preseason camp got underway.

According to Hall, the Raiders were going to try and practice at Hidden Valley High School in Grants Pass on Tuesday. However, SOU’s attempt to get out of the smoke was quickly canceled that morning thanks to AQI numbers that were around 180 in Grants Pass. As a result, SOU was forced to stay on campus and practice indoors.

Hall and the Raiders will treat this Saturday’s game like a road game, leaving Friday just after lunch and will spend the night in Eugene. The team will conduct a walk-through practice at Autzen after arriving in Eugene.

“We’ll do that so that at least the players experience (Autzen Stadium) before they take the field on Saturday,” Hall said.

As much as he knows it’s been a frustrating couple of weeks, Hall said his team is trying to make a tough situation into a learning and positive experience.

“I think you can always make this a teachable moment for young people,” Hall said. “Not having to practice and having to deal with the changing of a schedule is an inconvenience, but you look at the things we’re all looking back on a year ago — people who lost homes in the (Almeda) fire — those are hardships. You look at the 20-year anniversary of Sept. 11, those are true hardships that people deal with the rest of their lives. The fact that we have to pivot and make things a little uncomfortable and frustrating for us, those aren’t hardships and we’re able to overcome those things.

“We just try to keep our perspective and have an attitude of gratitude as we get to play on Saturday.”

Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSouthern Oregon University's first football practice at Raider Stadium in Ashland last month.