Southern Oregon to host highly ranked foe

ASHLAND — Southern Oregon University football coach Steve Helminiak is hoping last week's thrilling win over Azusa Pacific is enough to jump-start his Raider team that has struggled through many close games this season.

The Raiders (2-5) host Mary Hardin-Baylor (6-0) of Texas Saturday at 1 p.m. at Raider Stadium. The Crusaders, from Belton, Texas, are ranked third in NCAA Division III.

SOU jumped out to a 13-0 lead last week against Azusa Pacific before needing a 43-yard field goal from senior Corey O'Neill with 1:23 to play to secure the victory. O'Neill, a South Medford product, was named the NAIA national special teams player of the week.

"Big time players step up in big games, and he did," Helminiak said.

"He accounted for 10 points for us and two huge field goals — the one at the end of the game and the 50-yarder at the half."

SOU also got its first taste of new starting quarterback J.C. Hunsaker.

The senior went for 127 yards through the air on 16 of 30 passing and also rushed for 33 yards.

Helminiak was impressed with a couple areas of Hunsaker's play.

"Zero turnovers, and that was huge," Helminiak said. "He also managed the game and really led the offense. He made the guys in the huddle feel confident, and that's what the team needed."

Mary Hardin-Baylor comes into this week on a roll following last week's 26-14 win over Mississippi College. The Crusaders have won 26 straight games in the American Southwest Conference.

In that game, Mississippi College took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, marking the first time all season the Crusaders had trailed.

On the season, the Mary Hardin-Baylor has outscored its opponents, 220-56.

The Crusaders' closest game came on Oct. 4, when they edged 11th-ranked Hardin-Simmons 20-18. Hardin-Simmons missed a 2-point conversion with less than two minutes to play. In that game, the Crusaders had the ball 79 times and ran it 73 times.

On the year, Mary Hardin-Baylor has rushed for 1,582 yards and an average of 263.7 per game.

"They are an outstanding program," Helminiak said. "They want to run the ball, and they are a physical offense. But they are also not afraid to throw it if they have to."

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