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SOU set for first home football game since 2019

ASHLAND — The two winningest teams in the Frontier Conference over the last decade are on the ropes and in must-win position early as they prepare to clash Saturday at Raider Stadium.

Kicking off at 1 p.m., Southern Oregon (1-2) will play on its home field for the first time since 2019 against the Carroll (Mont.) Saints (1-2). It’s the first of two matchups between the teams, and for the Raiders, following last week’s 29-3 loss at College of Idaho, it marks the beginning of a five-game stretch in which they’ll play four in Ashland with a chance to get back in contention.

All fans 12 and older planning to attend are subject to SOU’s new vaccination policy, which requires proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative test taken no more than 48 hours prior to entry. Photo ID must be presented for verification. Per state mandate, non-participants will also be required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status.

The Raiders’ shorthanded offense produced its lowest points (3) and yardage (205) totals of the Frontier Conference era in last Saturday’s loss at College of Idaho. Tre Holmes had eight tackles and a sack and Tua Laolagi was credited with seven tackles and 1 ½ sacks for the defense, but the Yotes had all three of the game’s takeaways and were in cruise control by halftime with a 23-0 lead. C of I’s quarterbacks combined to complete 17-of-22 passes for 229 yards, while SOU’s combined to complete 18-of-38 for 151 yards.

The Saints have two losses but are just a couple breaks away from being in first place. They lost their opener at Montana Western, 26-22, and last week against Eastern Oregon, 10-7, and gave up the go-ahead scores in the fourth quarters of both games.

They profile as a strong defensive outfit, allowing only 287 yards per game and 180 through the air despite facing two all-star quarterback already. The Saints defense has eight takeaways, including three interceptions from defensive back TJ Abraham.

Last spring they were the Frontier’s representative in the NAIA Championship Series and lost to Morningside (Iowa) in the first round, 55-0. Their 3-1 record put them in a three-way tie for first place and marked their second winning season in a row under head coach Troy Purcell after four straight losing seasons.

Devan Bridgewater, Carroll’s starting quarterback for the third straight season, is completing 58 percent of his attempts for 181 yards per game with one TD, three interceptions and 14 sacks absorbed already.

But the Saints run on over half of their plays from scrimmage, getting big numbers so far from redshirt-freshman Duncan Kraft (60 rushes, 246 yards, 4 TDs). Matthew Burgess — an all-conference running back as a freshman in 2019 who averaged 134 rushing yards per game during the spring — has missed the last two games.

SOU is 104-62 all-time at Raider Stadium, including 26-9 in Frontier games and 17-2 against unranked Frontier teams. The Raiders have yet to lose at home to a team with a sub-.500 FC record. They went 2-3 at home in 2019, their first sub-.500 record in Ashland since 2010. This’ll mark the latest date for SOU’s Ashland debut since 2013, when the Raiders had to wait to play on their home field until the sixth game on Oct. 13; they’d opted to play their scheduled home opener in Grants Pass that year.

Series notes

- The Raiders have won five straight games overall against Carroll. They’ve also won all five Frontier home games against the Saints, and lead the overall series 8-5.

- SOU is 7-3 overall in FC play against Carroll. The other three meetings were in the NAIA Championship Series, and on their way to the 2014 national title the Raiders won a 45-42 national quarterfinal game against the top-ranked Saints by erasing a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit amid a blizzard.

- This will be the second time the teams have matched up without either being in the NAIA Top 25.

- The last meeting was a 29-28 SOU win on Sept. 28, 2019. At Raider Stadium, SOU scored three unanswered touchdowns in the final 16 minutes and Christian Graney made the game-winning TD reception with 44 seconds remaining.

Raider notes

- Holmes, an All-Frontier second-team selection in 2019, is up to 111 career tackles after matching his career-high with eight last week. He also had a sack, giving him 14 ½ in his career and moving him within 2 ½ of Isiah Carter at No. 8 on SOU’s all-time sacks list.

- Laolagi has already been in on five sacks this season — two solo, three assisted. In his previous two seasons combined, he was in on four.

Kicker Cesar Ruiz remains perfect in his first season as a Raider. He’d made all 10 of his PAT tries entering last week, when he knocked through his first field-goal attempt — a 38-yarder that accounted for SOU’s only points.

- Receiver Christian Graney continued his steady play with four receptions for 50 yards against the Yotes. He leads the Raiders with 13 catches and is one away from No. 80 in his career. He’s also just 159 reception yards away from hitting 1,000.

- Stokes Botelho is SOU’s leading tackler with 18 and has one of the team’s two interceptions. The Raiders have been without linebacker Jake Regino, who was their second-leading tackler in 2019, for the last two games.

- The Raiders’ rushing game continues to struggle: it netted 54 yards on 26 attempts last week and is posting 1.6 yards per attempt through three games. They averaged 2.6 yards per attempt in 2019 after averaging 4.0 or more each of the previous seven seasons. Their top rusher, Hykeem Massey, has netted 121 yards on 31 chances.

Southern Oregon University defensive lineman Tre Holmes, seen here in a file photo, and the Raiders play their first home game since November 2019 on Saturday against Carroll College. (Larry Stauth Jr. / for the Mail Tribune)