SOU, Rocky set for showdown under the lights
The lights will turn on Saturday at Raider Stadium when Southern Oregon University hosts a rare Frontier Conference night game against Rocky Mountain (Mont.) at 6:30 p.m.
SOU (1-4 overall, 1-3 FC) got to sit on its first win for an extra week during a conference-wide bye following a thrilling comeback against Carroll (Mont.) eased the sting of three consecutive three-point losses. The less-than-ideal fight to get out of an early hole is the same, but the line between victory and defeat has been jarringly thicker for the Battlin’ Bears (2-3, 1-3). Like the Raiders, they opened the season in the NAIA Top 25, but after starting their FC title defense with two wins they were outscored by a combined 124-14 in consecutive losses to Carroll, Montana Western and College of Idaho.
SOU is 7-2 in the head-to-head series against Rocky, which dates back to a 50-7 Raiders win in Ashland in 2001.
The Raiders are 5-2 against the Bears since the teams became Frontier foes and haven’t lost in three matchups in Ashland. The teams also played the 2013 FC opener at Grants Pass High, where Rocky earned a 35-30 win that was later turned over to SOU due to the use of an ineligible player.
Last year’s Oct. 6 meeting in Billings marked a turning point for both teams. The Bears were two games back of the first-place Raiders when the day started, but ended SOU’s 14-game conference winning streak, 34-21, and started a run that culminated in their first FC championship since 1999.
In Rocky’s last visit to Ashland during the 2016 season, SOU preserved its perfect record and a 24-23 win by denying a two-point conversion attempt with 1:25 remaining.
THREADING THE COMEBACK: Two weeks ago at Raider Stadium, SOU broke into the win column by scoring three unanswered touchdowns in the final 16 minutes that turned a 28-9 deficit into a 29-28 triumph behind backup quarterback Chase Knutz. Making his first start in place of the injured Wyatt Hutchinson, Knutz threw for three touchdowns, including the go-ahead 15-yarder to Christian Graney with 44 seconds left, and completed clutch fourth-down passes on each of SOU’s last two drives. How rare was the comeback? It’s rivaled by only two others in the last 15 years: a 38-35 win against Eastern Oregon in 2015, when the Raiders scored 24 unanswered points in the final 16 minutes, and a 35-34 win at Rocky in 2016, when they trailed 34-14 with three minutes left in the third quarter.
THIS CLOSE: SOU’s combined point differential reached new levels of weird against the Saints: Their four games during the month of September were decided by a total of 10 points. During the Frontier era, their previous low margin during a four-game stretch had been 17 in 2016. The last time they had three straight games decided by seven points or fewer was 1996. And the last time they played four straight games decided by seven points or fewer was 1974. That year, they played a five-game stretch wherein the combined margin was 18.
LIGHTS, PLEASE: SOU is 103-60 at Raider Stadium, with records of 25-7 in Frontier play and 16-2 against unranked FC opponents. The last time the Raiders won a regular-season night game at home was Oct. 7, 2006, when they defeated Azusa Pacific 57-7. They’ve only played one previous Frontier night game at home, a loss to EOU in 2016, and have dropped 10 of their last 12 regular-season home night games overall. They did, however, defeat MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.) under the lights in the first round of the NAIA Championship Series.
- Wyatt Hutchinson is slated to return this week after sustaining an injury during the final drive of SOU’s 17-14 loss at Montana Tech on Sept. 21. The junior ranks eighth nationally in total yardage per game (295.5) and 13th in average passing yards (247), having totaled 300-plus four times in his last six starts. In his last six FC outings dating back to last season, he’s thrown for 12 TDs and three interceptions.
- Junior linebacker Collin Crown accounted for all three of SOU’s tackles for losses against Carroll, his first of the season. In FC play, his average of 9.8 tackles per game ranks second among all conference players.
- SOU netted 134 rushing yards against Carroll, getting 51 from Austin May and 42 from Hykeem Massey, who added 45 more yards on five receptions. In their three previous Frontier games, the Raiders average 86 rushing yards.
- Christian Graney has emerged as a top target for SOU with a team-high 24 catches spanning 244 yards. Against Carroll, he collected his second TD while Massey and Jason Shelley got their first. Jordan Suell’s four reception TDs lead the Raiders, and he needs one more to become the ninth player in team history with 20 in a career.
- In FC play, the Raiders have an even turnover margin of 6-6. They rank fifth in takeaways and fourth in giveaways among conference teams.
- Craig Contreras Jr.’s punting average of 40.9 yards is No. 8 on the NAIA leaderboard. He’s sent four of 22 for 50-plus yards.
TOP 25 WATCH: The Frontier was represented by three teams in Monday’s edition of the NAIA Top 25: No. 8 College of Idaho (4-0), No. 15 Montana Western (4-0) and No. 22 Montana Tech (3-1), all up one spot after the bye. The Raiders will see all three teams over their final four games. Montana Tech hosts UMW on Saturday while C of I visits Carroll.
COMING UP: SOU will remain busy at home, wrapping the month with a Homecoming battle against College of Idaho on Oct. 26 and a 2 p.m. kickoff time that will be preceded by a Homecoming parade. The home finale on Nov. 2 against Montana Tech will be celebrated with the 2019 SOU Sports Hall of Fame ceremony and Senior Day festivities, and has been tabbed Military and Veterans Appreciation Day. All veterans with valid ID will be admitted free of charge, and former SOU student-athletes who have served or are currently serving are encouraged to fill out this form for a special recognition.
About Rocky Mountain
- The Bears are led by a first-year head coach, Chris Stutzriem, who took over after Jason Petrino left to become the defensive coordinator at Southern Illinois last December. Stutzriem was an offensive coordinator under Petrino before spending 2018 as an assistant at Southwestern Oklahoma State.
- In his first season as the starting quarterback, junior Drew Korf is directing an offense that lost six All-Frontier players to graduation. He’s completed 53 percent of his passes for 168.6 yards per game, six TDs and seven picks, though the Bears only have one passing TD during their losing streak. Korf’s top target, Lucas Overton, ranks seventh in the NAIA in receptions (34), while Josh Kraft has four reception TDs. Protection is an issue; they’ve been sacked 24 times.
- The Bears have logged three rushing TDs and given up 11. They’re averaging 3.2 yards per rush and giving up 5.2
- Rocky’s secondary has nine interceptions with Ty Reynolds, Jimmy Henderson and Wyatt Brusven tallying two apiece.
- The Bears also lost all five of their all-stars on the defensive side of the ball after 2018. Shane Larson has a team-high 42 tackles, and Mason Price has four of the team’s 13 sacks.