ASHLAND — Even with five straight wins in the bag, there were no complaints coming from the Southern Oregon University football team about a bye week and its potential momentum-halting effects.
Rested and ready for the second half of the 10-game Frontier Conference schedule, the seventh-ranked Raiders (5-0) figure to have a healthier look when they travel to face rival Eastern Oregon (2-3) at 6 p.m. Saturday in La Grande. In their last time out, a 24-23 win against Rocky Mountain on Sept. 30, critical contributions from a handful of backups kept the Raiders perfect while buying them time to heal.
As a result, they have first place to themselves for the first time since mid-2014 and can move to 6-0 in the Frontier for the first time since joining the conference. Only seven other undefeated teams are left in the NAIA after back-to-back defending Frontier champ Montana Tech was eliminated from the ranks in a 42-35 setback at Montana Western last week.
- Saturday's game will be the 74th in the series against the Mountaineers, which dates back to the 1930 season. SOU has bragging rights to the tune of a 52-18-3 record, and the latest meeting will match this with the Raiders' stale old rivalry with Western Oregon for their most games against a single opponent.
- The season-opening game between the teams — which was postponed for two days and ultimately relocated to Sherwood due to unhealthy air quality in Ashland — was a 31-21 win for then-No. 25 SOU over then-No. 7 EOU. In it, the Raiders took a 17-14 edge into halftime on Marcus Montano's last-second field goal, then scored back-to-back touchdowns midway through the fourth quarter on Tanner Trosin's 15-yard rush and his 74-yard connection with Bronsen Ader, extending the lead to 17 points. Trosin completed 21 of 33 passes for 311 yards, while the defense held the Mountaineers to 294 total yards — their lowest total against the Raiders since 2006.
- The Raiders had won five in a row at EOU until last year's 45-40 season-opening loss. Overall in Frontier play (beginning in 2012), they're 7-4 against the Mountaineers.
- Before last year's game against the Raiders, the Mountaineers hadn't hosted a night game since 1987. They've played four since, going 3-1.
NAIA Top 25: There have been five regular-season coaches' polls and five upward moves for the Raiders — though, after going up 11 spots in the initial rankings and four in the second, they've ascended one spot in each of the last three due to the knock-out nature of the poll this time of year. Montana Tech's loss resulted in a six-spot drop to No. 11, the second-steepest of the week. The unanimous No. 1 remains defending champion Saint Francis (Ind.), which is defeating opponents by an average score of 47.7 to 19.3 and has notched four wins against teams currently in the Top 25.
Catching on Fast: Tanner Trosin's 347.4 passing yards per game give SOU the eighth-best passing offense in the NAIA — one that appeared to take a huge blow when slot man Bronsen Ader, who averaged 165 receiving yards with three touchdowns through the first two weeks, exited with an injury early in SOU's third game at Montana Western. Ader is back on the depth chart this week, but in his absence the Raiders have more than made do: In three straight games, Trosin has connected with 10 different receivers.
The contributions, obviously, have been widespread. Jordan Suell went for 122 and 123 yards in back-to-back games against UMW and Carroll with two TDs. Matt Boudreaux has averaged 86 yards over the last three games, and in his career-best 116-yard performance against Rocky Mountain, he pulled in catches of 42 and 43 yards on SOU scoring drives. Dominic Giampaoli had a career-best seven-catch, 72-yard game while filling in for Ader against UMW. And against Rocky, Chase Cole (5 catches, 41 yards) and Isaac Hurd (7 catches, 70 yards) pitched in career-best efforts before freshman tight end Dalton Yoder caught his first TD pass.
Ground Notes: While the Raiders' rushing attack has lagged somewhat — averages of 3.6 yards per carry and 126 per game both rank seventh in the conference — they have more rushing TDs (13) than every team except Montana Tech (17). Trosin isn't using his feet as often as he did in his first season — he's averaging 30 yards per game now compared to 62 then — but he is responsible for five of those scores and Michael Roots four. In 21 career games, Trosin is up to 17 rushing TDs (the most ever for a Raider QB) and 1,083 net rushing yards.