No. 20 Raiders set for home opener vs. EOU
Eager to discard their season-opening results, both Southern Oregon and Eastern Oregon know what a win against a rival can do to accelerate the healing process.
The 20th-ranked Raiders and Mountaineers, in their 77th head-to-head tilt on Saturday at Raider Stadium, will attempt to use each other as launching pads. Unpredictability has become the norm during the Frontier Conference era of their relationship — success has been much more common on the road, for example — and while projecting the matchup is not generally a worthwhile endeavor anyway, last week was helpful only in raising more questions.
The Raiders lost 77-19 at Sacramento State, but it was unclear whether their ability to move the ball was more encouraging than their four turnovers were concerning, or if their inability to match up defensively with an NCAA Division I offense was relevant at all. The Mountaineers lost 48-12 at No. 15 College of Idaho, but did they do more to raise red flags on their own side or to validate the Yotes’ status as preseason conference favorites? One thing is clear: a week into September, there remains plenty of time to find out.
* After this matchup, SOU will have played against Eastern Oregon more than any other opponent, surpassing an expired rivalry with Western Oregon. The Raiders are 54-19-3 in the series, including a 9-5 record in Frontier games.
* Strangely, four of EOU’s five Frontier wins against the Raiders have occurred in Ashland, while SOU has gone 6-1 against the Mountaineers at EOU. In last year’s season-opener in La Grande, the Raiders used 29 unanswered points and 273 yards rushing to score a 32-13 win. In the second meeting in Ashland, EOU claimed all three of the game’s takeaways and outscored SOU 17-0 in the third quarter of a 27-17 victory.
* Of the last 10 matchups between the teams, the Raiders have led only three of them through three quarters. In the fourth quarters of those games, they’ve outscored the Mountaineers by a combined 120-53 margin.
* SOU’s last win against the Mountaineers at Raider Stadium — a 38-35 decision on Sept. 12, 2015 — saw the Raiders score 24 unanswered points over the final 16 minutes. When SOU swept the Mountaineers during its unbeaten Frontier run in 2017, the game scheduled to be played in Ashland was moved to Sherwood due to poor air quality.
The Raiders were picked to finish second in the Frontier Conference behind College of Idaho, and in seven previous seasons as part of the circuit they’ve finished outside of the top-two in the standings just once (2016). They’ve posted a combined Frontier record of 52-18, and during that same period EOU has gone 39-31. Last year, EOU (along with SOU) was part of a four-way tie for second place at 6-4. The Mountaineers were picked sixth in the Frontier preseason coaches’ poll.
SOU is 102-59 all-time at Raider Stadium, including 24-6 in Frontier games and 15-1 against unranked Frontier teams. In 10 home games over the previous two seasons, the Raiders went 9-1. Saturday’s game marks the first time they’ve ever played a Frontier opener at Raider Stadium: the 2017 opener was moved to Sherwood, the installation of Raider Stadium’s artificial field turf moved their 2014 opener to Ashland High, and their first two openers were played in Medford and Grants Pass in an effort to appeal to the rest of the Rogue Valley.
The most encouraging development at Sacramento State was the activity of senior receiver Jordan Suell and his seven-reception, two-touchdown, 164-yard stat line. The 6-foot-6 product of Vancouver, Washington, has now broken into triple-digit reception yardage six times, but the other five were each logged before an injury forced him to miss the first six games of 2018. He accounted for both of SOU’s touchdowns against the Hornets — a 19-yard job on the game’s opening drive and a 54-yarder near the end of the third quarter — and has recorded 17 TDs in his last 21 appearances. With four more, he’d move into the top-eight in SOU history. The last time he saw Eastern Oregon, on Oct. 14, 2017, he made three catches for 111 yards with a 40-yard score.
* Four interceptions aside, junior quarterback Wyatt Hutchinson registered his third consecutive 300-yard passing game after being held under 200 yards in six of his previous eight starts. The 17 completions that did not find Suell went to a group of seven targets who last year combined for just 27 receptions. Khalil Hudson, a redshirt-junior, made his on-field debut for the Raiders with six catches for 70 yards.
* After yielding 340 passing yards on 17 completions last week, the Raiders made one key addition to their defensive depth chart: Wadsen Jean Baptiste, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound safety who transferred from Yuba College (Calif.). As a sophomore at Yuba, he was the CCCAA’s NorCal Defensive Player of the Year with 13 1/2 sacks from the linebacker position.
* The Raider defense totaled an NAIA-best 103 sacks over the previous two seasons but went without one at Sacramento State. That shouldn’t be particularly alarming: In their last NCAA Div. I matchup, a 52-35 loss at UC Davis in 2016, they didn’t record a sack either.
* The Raiders are 6-1 in Frontier openers, though that record includes a victory that Rocky Mountain had to forfeit in 2013.
* Over the previous five seasons, SOU has ranked top-10 nationally in average yards per punt four times thanks to three different individuals. That trend appeared to be in jeopardy when Jaxon Clark was lost for the season due to an injury sustained last spring, but tight end Craig Contreras Jr. averaged 43.7 yards on six attempts at Sac State, including the ninth-longest punt in team history (62). New kicker Graycen Kennedy also impressed in his debut, nailing field goals of 46 and 37 yards.
About Eastern Oregon
* The Mountaineers’ Frontier opener at College of Idaho got away from them early, and they trailed 27-0 one possession into the second half. They only faced 14 passing plays in the game, as the Yotes attempted 55 rushes for 377 yards and five touchdowns.
* Junior quarterback Kai Quinn was the Frontier’s top passer in terms of yardage in 2018, averaging 295 with 15 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and a 50-percent completion rate. The third-year starter went 17-of-35 with 184 yards and two picks against the Yotes, and in his last six quarters played against SOU he’s been held to 41-percent completions (25-of-61).
* EOU returned five All-Frontier selections, including four on the defensive side: first-team defensive end Sage DeLong, and second-team selections Chase Van Wyck on the line, Isaiah Cranford at linebacker and Zackary Jacobs at defensive back. Jacobs ranked fourth nationally with seven interceptions last season, while Cranford and DeLong combined for 16 sacks.
* Running back Victor Dias is another conference all-star, though he contributed to a ground game that netted 66 yards on 23 tries last week.
* Tim Camp, EOU’s 12th-year head coach, is 67-54 overall and 6-12 against SOU.