ASHLAND — Southern Oregon’s second half warranted a sigh of relief in the season-opener last week at Eastern Oregon, where the No. 4-ranked Raiders snapped into form following an inauspicious start and ultimately looked worthy of defending their Frontier title in a 32-13 win.
Their second opponent, The College of Idaho, is awaiting a similar revelation after being picked to finish third in the conference. Desperate to keep their season from going off the rails early, the Yotes are 0-2 entering what looks to be their most challenging stretch of the season - at SOU, at Portland State, and against No. 20 Rocky Mountain (Mont.). To stop the slide on Saturday afternoon, they’ll have to spoil SOU’s Raider Stadium debut, a feat no team has accomplished since 2010.
The Raiders are 10-3 against the Yotes in a series that dates back to 1948. They’ve matched up twice annually for Frontier games since C of I’s program reemerged for the 2014 season, and SOU has gone 7-1 with a 26-point average margin of victory.
The Yotes are 70 years removed from their last win in Ashland. Their lone Frontier win in the series, in 2016, was a 44-41 overtime final in Caldwell. Earlier that season, the Raiders protected a No. 9 ranking and a 31-27 win by batting away two balls in the end zone during the final seconds.
Last season’s SOU sweep - consisting of a 41-25 win in Caldwell that dropped the Yotes to 0-3 and a 36-7 win in Ashland - was dictated by the Raiders’ 9-2 advantage in takeaways. In the second game, they forced five turnovers before halftime and had 11 sacks - their highest total yet in a Frontier game.
The teams went 46 years between matchups following C of I’s 21-14 win in 1968.
SOU is two wins shy of its 100th win at Raider Stadium with a 98-58 all-time record. That includes marks of 20-5 in Frontier games and 14-1 against unranked Frontier opponents. The Raiders ran the table at home last year for the first time since 2012. They’ve won 18 consecutive home games in which they’ve scored at least 30 points.
A linebackers unit that produced three first-team All-Frontier selections last year got off to a fast start at EOU. Senior Devvon Gage, a two-time all-conference performer, made team history by becoming the sixth Raider to record 300 career tackles: He’s up to 307 after getting eight against the Mountaineers — 69 away from the Raider record established in 1982 by Jack Childress — and his fumble recovery resulted in a 55-yard return, his first career touchdown and a Frontier Defensive Player of the Week award. Senior Tyson Cooper, another All-Frontier selection, forced that fumble and came away with the fourth two-sack game of his career.
With 279 career points, senior kicker Marcus Montano stands as the fourth-highest-scoring player in team history. He tacked on eight last week with field goals of 42 and 44 yards, including one that tied the game at 10-all near the midway point of the third quarter. It marked the first time as a Raiders he’s converted multiple 40-yard field goals in the same game, and netted him the Frontier Special Teams Player of the Week award. He’s also 37-of-45 inside the 40-yard line in his career, and since the start of last season he’s made 14-of-19 overall.
About That Debut
After misfiring on nine of his first 12 attempts as SOU’s new starting quarterback, Wyatt Hutchinson settled in and went 11-of-15 the rest of the way to amass 163 passing yards without an interception. He was most impressive on the run, though, taking off 15 times for 100 yards gained (82 net) and two touchdowns. Before Tanner Trosin came along in 2015, the high single-game rushing total for an SOU quarterback in the previous decade was 42 yards.
With a win against the ’Yotes, the Raiders would be 2-0 for just the fourth time in the last 16 seasons. They’ve won 11 consecutive regular-season games since the start of last season. The longest regular-season streak in team history, which spanned from 1946-47, is 14 games.
The Raiders recorded six sacks last week and allowed just one. Last year, when they led the NAIA in sacks, they had at least six in five different games. In 2016, they did it once.
Senior defensive end Sean Rogers accounted for one of those sacks and brought his four-year total to 22 . He passed Jon “Moose” Chamberlin (1994-97) to take over the No. 4 spot on SOU’s career list. Last year against C of I, he set a Raider single-game Frontier record with four sacks.
With a 53-yard burst in the third quarter that gave SOU the lead for good, senior running back Rey Vega scored his 20th touchdown as a Raider. He netted 104 yards on 19 carries, marking his third 100-yard output in five games dating back to last season and his fifth overall at SOU.
Junior Jason Shelley was responsible for more than half of SOU’s reception yards with six catches for 84. That total pushed him passed 1,000 receiving yards as a Raider.
Seniors AJ Cooper and Tyler Dean collected SOU’s interceptions at EOU. Cooper’s was the ninth for the Raiders, and Dean’s was his first.
The Raider defense has shut out opponents on their opening drives in eight straight regular-season games.
NAIA Top 25 Watch
Through the first two weeks of the season, nine teams in the NAIA Top 25 preseason poll have been hit with a loss. In front of the Raiders, No. 2 Reinhardt (Ga.) is 0-1, and behind them, No. 6 Saint Xavier (Ill.) is 0-2. Three Top 25 matchups are on the docket this week: No. 7 Georgetown (Ky.) at No. 2 Reinhardt; No. 10 Grand View (Iowa) at No. 9 Baker (Kan.); and No. 13 Dickinson State (N.D.) at No. 20 Rocky Mountain.
About College of Idaho
Mike Moroski is in his fifth season as head coach, sporting an 18-28 overall record. After starting 1-4 last year, he led the Yotes to five wins in their last six games.
The Yotes returned seven starters on offense but have scored only four offensive touchdowns so far in losses at Eastern Oregon (24-21) and against Montana Tech (36-16). Junior quarterback Darius-James Peterson - who had 228 rushing yards in C of I’s lone Frontier win against SOU two years ago - started the opener, going 12-of-25 with 136 yards and a pair of interceptions. He was out last week due to illness, and redshirt-freshman Nathaniel Holcomb stepped in to set C of I’s single-game pass attempts records with a 22-of-44 outing for 272 yards, two TDs and a pick.
The Yotes rushed on 62 percent of their plays from scrimmage a year ago, averaging 5.5 yards per attempt. Through two games this year, however, they’ve been limited to 1.9 yards per carry.
Hunter Juarez, a redshirt-freshman transfer from Nevada, caught two passes last week but turned them both into scores of 75 yards and 43 yards. Twelve different Yotes have recorded receptions already, and Connor Richardson leads the team with 12.
The Yotes had to replace seven starters on defense after last year. So far, they’ve yielded 447.5 yards per game.
Since joining the Frontier, they’re 5-16 in conference road games.