ASHLAND — For weeks, the matchup looked bound to have Frontier Conference title implications.
But as fifth-ranked Southern Oregon and No. 22 Montana Tech prepare to meet Saturday in Butte, Montana, for the final game of the regular season, the Orediggers have been reduced from contenders to hopeful spoilers.
A perfect season and playoff seeding are on the line for the Raiders, who at 9-0 have nailed down their second Frontier title and a spot in the 16-team NAIA Championship Series. Kickoff is 11 a.m. PST. The postseason field will be announced at 2 p.m. Sunday, and will be shown live on the NAIA Facebook page. A win would solidify SOU's ranking and guarantee a first-round home game on Nov. 18.
The Diggers (6-3), on the other hand, are likely to see their season end regardless of the outcome. The 2015 and '16 Frontier champions lost three of their last five games, and the fall from grace has sunk them 17 spots in the NAIA Top 25.
SERIES HISTORY: The series, which originated in 2007, is tied 5-5. Five of those games were decided by five or fewer points, and two went to overtime — making Tech the only team SOU has played multiple overtime games against.
The Raiders are 4-3 against Tech in Frontier play but lost the last two matchups, both in Ashland. Last year's game, also a regular-season finale, was a 38-27 decision in which quarterback Quinn McQueary passed for 333 yards, rushed for 65 and totaled three touchdowns.
NAIA TOP 25: After four weeks at No. 7, the Raiders jumped two spots in Monday's poll.
The Raiders have never entered the NAIA Championship Series ranked higher than No. 7, which was their spot in 2001 and '15.
They're among six remaining undefeated teams in the NAIA.
THE RUN-DOWN: SOU used Saturday's 38-17 victory at last-place Montana State-Northern as an opportunity to get its running game back in order. Rey Vega netted 173 yards on 12 carries with a pair of touchdowns (including an 80-yarder), and Austin May added 70 yards on 17 carries — career highs for both backs.
As a team SOU netted 191 rushing yards on 43 attempts, 80 yards over its season average going into the day.
BRIEFLY: If the Raiders can win their 10th game, they'd join the 2014 national champions and 2015 national finalists as the only teams in program history to hit double figures.
Freezing temperatures and an early lopsided score contributed as SOU quarterback Tanner Trosin saw a couple streaks come to an end last week while completing 15 of 24 passes for 277 yards. His run of consecutive games with 300-plus passing yards ended at 10, and his run of consecutive games with at least one passing touchdown ended at 18.
The Raiders were up 31-0 by halftime at Northern, leading by at least three touchdowns at the break for the fifth time this season. They've outscored opponents 208-68 in the first half and 122-113 in the second.
Bronsen Ader caught four passes for 121 yards against the Lights for his fifth 100-yard game of the season. His other two outings: 31 yards at Montana Western, where he left with an injury in the first quarter, and 99 yards at Eastern Oregon.
Three Raiders are in the top five in sacks on the Frontier: Sean Rogers (nine), Isiah Carter (seven) and Tre Holmes (six). Tyson Cooper ranks third in tackles per game (8.4).
Carter needs six more tackles to become the fifth Raider to ever record 300 in a career.