Kickoff is 1 p.m. Saturday at Raider Stadium
Southern Oregon and Carroll (Mont.) have produced more classics than any other Frontier Conference pairing since the turn of the century, but matchups in recent years lacked the extra kick of mutual significance. This week at Raider Stadium, that key ingredient is baked in.
The Raiders (4-3 overall, 3-2 FC) and No. 11-ranked Saints (6-1, 4-1) are among five teams atop the standings separated by one loss with three weeks left in the regular season. SOU is riding a three-game winning streak for the first time in four years, having outscored opponents 114-25 in October. The Saints are on the rebound after letting sole possession of first place slip away at home last week against College of Idaho – a result that dropped them five spots in the NAIA Top 25 poll – but a strong finish would put them solidly in line for a postseason berth.
Kickoff is 1 p.m. Saturday at Raider Stadium. The last time the teams met with winning records on both sides was 2018, and the last time they did so in the second half of the season was 2015.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Raiders are 9-8 overall against Carroll, including records of 8-6 in Frontier games and 6-2 in Ashland. Last year the Saints earned a 24-17 win at Raider Stadium — their first here since the 2001 NAIA quarterfinals — by scoring the go-ahead touchdown with seven minutes left. It was their third consecutive win in the series, a streak preceded by six consecutive SOU victories.
Some of SOU’s more memorable comebacks have been at the Saints’ expense. The most consequential was in the 2014 NAIA quarterfinal round, when the Raiders outscored top-ranked Carroll 27-7 in the fourth quarter to steal a 45-42 win on the way to a national title. At Raider Stadium, they scored three unanswered touchdowns to finish a 29-28 win in 2019, and erased a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit in a 34-33 triumph in 2021. Six of the teams’ eight matchups in Ashland have been decided by four or fewer points.
LAST TIME OUT: SOU cruised 42-13 at Montana State-Northern last week, scoring the first five touchdowns of the game to keep the Lights winless in conference play. The Raiders limited them to 69 yards of offense, the lowest total ever for an SOU opponent in a Frontier game. The Raiders’ three early turnovers kept it a one-score game until 16 seconds remained in the second quarter, when Blake Asciutto hit Ted Wickman in the end zone. On the first play from scrimmage of the third, Asciutto and Moku Noa made a 75-yard TD connection, and three players later Spencer Kuffel came up with a pick-six. SOU improved to 16-0 all-time against the Lights, who have lost 66 of their last 67 FC games.
- SOU’s defense is No. 23 on the national leaderboard with an average of 18.4 points allowed per game, trailing only Carroll (18.0) among FC teams. The Raiders’ sack total of 27 and average of 3.9 is tied for second in the NAIA; last year they ranked 53rd in sacks.
- Defensive end Noah Turnbull is sixth nationally in sacks (7) and the FC’s only player with double-digit tackles for losses (10 ½). He has made at least one tackle for a loss six games in a row.
- SOU is the only team in the country with at least 20 appearances in the red zone to have scored each trip, going 24-of-24 in those situations. Twenty of them have resulted in touchdowns, good for an 83 percent success rate that also leads the NAIA.
- Spencer Kuffel’s interception at MSU-Northern was his fifth of the season, a total that leads the Frontier and ties him for fifth on the NAIA leaderboard. He is the second Raider ever to record interceptions in three consecutive Frontier games, joining Stokes Botelho (2021). His pick-six was also the Raiders’ second in as many weeks; the last time they had two in an entire season was 2014.
- Only seven players in the country have more rushing touchdowns than Avery McCuaig (11), who has recorded at least one in six consecutive games. Four more would put the senior among the top-eight in SOU single-season history. His rushing yards-per-game average of 71.1 is the second best in the Frontier, as is his yards-per-carry average of 5.8.
- Moku Noa accumulated 156 yards on six receptions last week, marking his second triple-digit game of the fall. He has totaled 328 yards on just 11 catches this year, giving him a yards-per-reception average of 29.8 that is the best in the NAIA among those with at least 10 catches.
- Jackson Clemmer made his team-leading fourth TD catch last week. Sawyer Cleveland has a team-high 22 total receptions, but no Raider has tallied multiple receptions each game this year.
- In three starts, Blake Asciutto has completed 53 percent of his pass attempts for 222.7 yards per game, five TDs and six interceptions. Two weeks ago, against Arizona Christian, he became the first Raider to record a passing TD, a rushing TD and a receiving TD in the same Frontier game.
MORE ON CARROLL:
- The Saints have won eight consecutive road games dating back to last season. Their fifth-year head coach, Troy Purcell, led them to a share of the 2022 Frontier title and their first full-season NAIA Championship Series appearance in nine years, bowing out in the first round. He owns a record of 29-14.
- Before surrendering 35 points last week against College of Idaho, the Saints hadn’t given up more than 23 in a game since the middle of last season. They are especially stingy against the rush, allowing just 2.4 yards per carry and 65.6 per game. Tucker Jones leads the team with 38 tackles and Hunter Peck has 5 ½ sacks.
- Junior quarterback Jack Prka heads a methodical offense that runs on 54 percent of its plays from scrimmage. He averages 196.7 passing yards, 80 of which go to Chris Akulschin, and has thrown just two interceptions.
- All-conference senior Duncan Kraft is the featured running back, posting 59.3 yards per game with six TDs this season. He is complemented by Baxter Tuggle, another senior who owns four TDs and posts 3.9 yards per touch.
HOME HISTORY: Both of the Raiders’ remaining visitors are among the NAIA Top 25, against which they are 11-12 at home in Frontier play. They’ve lost their last five against ranked opponents in Ashland and last defeated a team ranked as high as No. 11 Carroll at home in 2015. SOU is 109-69 overall at Raider Stadium and owns a 36-16 record as the designated home team against FC opponents.
AROUND THE FRONTIER: College of Idaho has a half-game lead and the tiebreaker over Carroll after defeating the Saints 35-21 last week. The Yotes (7-1, 5-1), bumped to No. 8 in the Top 25, play Saturday at Eastern Oregon before completing the regular season Nov. 11 at SOU. In addition to C of I and Carroll, the FC was represented by No. 13 Montana Western (6-1, 4-1) and No. 23 Montana Tech (4-3, 3-2) in this week’s coaches’ poll. Carroll and UMW play a critical game next week in Helena.