SOU and College of Idaho kick off the regular-season finale at 1 p.m. Saturday at Raider Stadium
Southern Oregon has been at its best down the stretch, climbing up the Frontier Conference standings with wins in four of its last five games. Foiling No. 5-ranked College of Idaho’s title chances would be the cherry on top of a successful start to the Raiders’ new era.
SOU (5-4 overall, 4-3 FC) and C of I (8-1, 6-1) kick off the regular-season finale at 1 p.m. Saturday at Raider Stadium. It marks the final appearance for 18 Raiders aiming for their first winning season under new coach Berk Brown, and it is also the fourth year in a row the Yotes have entered their final game needing a victory to clinch an automatic bid in the NAIA Championship Series. After missing out each of the last three years, they’re likely in win or lose thanks to the field’s expansion from 16 to 20 teams in 2023, but they come into the matchup tied for first place with Montana Western and with the tiebreaker in hand.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Raiders met C of I 10 weeks ago for their season opener, a 42-16 Yotes non-conference win in Caldwell. That one was closer than the final score indicated: In fact, the Raiders possessed the ball for 36 of the first 40 plays from scrimmage and led 6-0 on a pair of field goals before the Yotes went ahead with a touchdown pass and a pick-six all within the final 45 seconds of the first half. They dominated the second in what became their eighth consecutive head-to-head victory. The series is tied, 11-11, but the Raiders haven’t defeated C of I since 2018, when they won for the eighth time in nine matchups. They have a 7-4 record against the Yotes in Ashland, and they’ve led entering the fourth quarter each of the last two years at Raider Stadium.
LAST TIME OUT: The Raiders got their money’s worth out of their only matchup with Eastern Oregon last Saturday in La Grande, winning 41-24 as Blake Asciutto threw four touchdown passes. They fell behind 17-14 late in the second quarter before scoring 27 unanswered points, a stretch in which they blanked the Mountaineers on seven consecutive drives and held them without a first down on six of those. Jackson Clemmer caught two touchdown passes, Gunner Yates turned a screen pass into a 71-yard score, Sawyer Cleveland made a 44-yard TD grab, and DeShawn Craig and Seth Miller both collected interceptions. The win was SOU’s fifth in its last six trips to Community Stadium.
- The Raiders’ total of three road wins is their highest since 2017. Before winning three of their last four away from Ashland, they’d lost 10 of their previous 12. All four of their total losses this year came against teams currently among the top-22 in the NAIA rankings.
- SOU is 25th out of 94 NAIA teams in points allowed per game at 19.3. In conference play, the Raiders lead all FC teams in average points allowed (17.9) and yards allowed (272.6).
- Noah Turnbull is up to nine sacks after recording another last week; no other Frontier player has more than 6 ½. Turnbull is tied for fourth on the NAIA leaderboard, has a chance to become the first Raider to register 10 since 2018 and the first Raider to lead the conference since Rogers in 2017. Sixteen different Raiders have been in on at least one sack for a total of 32 that ranks fourth in the country; last year, they were 52nd with 21. Freshman Adonis Jackson has all four of his over SOU’s last five games.
- With 13 rushing touchdowns, Avery McCuaig has four more than any other FC player. He has notched at least one in eight consecutive games, a feat no other Raider had accomplished since 2012. McCuaig has a chance to become the first Raider to ever lead the FC in rushing yards per game; he’s at 73.6, and next on the list is C of I quarterback Andy Peters at 68.0.
- Spencer Kuffel’s five interceptions top the FC, and Seth Miller is tied for No. 3 on the leaderboard with three. Both have interception returns for TDs, giving the Raiders two in a season for the first time since 2014.
- Over his last four games, Blake Asciutto totaled nine TD passes, four interceptions, and an average of 229 passing yards. The junior is at 35 TD passes over three seasons, ranking No. 7 on SOU’s all-time list. With three more, he’d pass Mark Helfrich (1992-95). He has completed at least one attempt for 50-plus yards in five of seven outings this year, with three for 70-plus yards.
- Jackson Clemmer is among nine FC players with at least five TD receptions in conference play. Sawyer Cleveland leads the team and ranks eighth in the FC at 56.6 reception yards per game.
- The Raiders lead the NAIA in red-zone conversion percentage (30-of-31, 97%) and are third in red-zone touchdown percentage (24-of-31, 77%).
- Brian Batres hit two more field goals last week, making him 8-of-9 on the season with a long of 48 yards. Only two other NAIA kickers have connected on eight or more field goals with one or no misses.
- The last top-five opponent the Raiders defeated was No. 4 Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) in the 2017 national quarterfinals. The last time they beat a top-five opponent in the regular season was 2014, when the topped No. 2 Carroll 38-35 at Ashland High’s Phillips Field.
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- Behind quarterback Andy Peters, who is on track to win the FC Offensive Player of the Year award, the Yotes have yet to score fewer than 35 points in a game and their average of 43.1 is the seventh-highest in the country. They’re posting 448 yards per game, rankings sixth in yards per rush (5.7) and 11th in passing yards (270).
- Peters has thrown for 14 more touchdowns (25) and six fewer interceptions (4) than he did a season ago, carving up defenses with a career completion percentage of 60 and a few stellar targets in Brock Richardson (39 receptions, 7 TDs), Jon Schofield (35 receptions, 10 TDs) and John Kreps (27 receptions, 6 TDs). Peters is just as dangerous on the run, with three 100-yard games to his credit this fall. The Yotes also like going to Schofield, a receiver, in goal-line situations: on just 18 rush attempts, he has scored nine TDs. In their first matchup against SOU, 163 of Peters’ 212 passing yards went to Richardson.
- The Yotes defense is allowing 25 points per game in FC play, and proved vulnerable a couple weeks ago while giving up 38 on 494 yards to Eastern Oregon in a four-point win that was decided in the final few minutes. Defensive end Willie Nelson has 4 ½ of the team’s 21 sacks, and defensive back Chip Mitchell leads the team with three interceptions.
- Mike Moroski, the team’s 10th-year coach, has led the Yotes to four consecutive FC titles, the last three of which they shared. He took them to their only NAIA Championships Series in 2019, when they were eliminated in the quarterfinals.
HOME HISTORY: SOU is 109-70 overall at Raider Stadium and owns a 36-17 record as the designated home team against Frontier opponents. The Raiders are 11-13 at home against Top 25 FC teams. They’ve lost their last six in Ashland against ranked opponents.
AROUND THE FRONTIER: The FC has an outside chance of pushing a few teams into the NAIA Championship Series with four teams in this week’s Top 25: No. 5 C of I, No. 10 Montana Western, No. 16 Carroll and No. 22 Montana Tech. Montana Western enters its home matchup against Eastern Oregon at 6-1 in conference play, with a chance to clinch a share of its second title in three years. The two teams tied for third place, Carroll and Montana Tech, will meet in Helena with the loser likely landing outside of the playoff picture.