Homecoming weekend matchup set for 1 p.m. at Raider Stadium
ASHLAND – The clearest sign yet that Southern Oregon is rounding the corner appeared last week in the form of the team’s first road victory against a team with a winning record in five years. Back home this Saturday, the Raiders have a golden opportunity to pile on the momentum.
Arizona Christian (2-4 overall, 1-3 Frontier Conference) visits SOU (2-3, 1-2) for the first time in a 1 p.m. contest on Homecoming Weekend at Raider Stadium. The Firestorm have dropped three consecutive games, the last two of them by a combined margin of 73 points, and will face a Raiders team looking to even its Frontier record entering next week’s trip to last-place Montana State-Northern.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: The matchup will be SOU’s first ever against ACU, which this year became the first new football team to join the Frontier since College of Idaho in 2014. The Firestorm’s inaugural campaign was that same season: they went 2-7 but have posted winning records every year since, making NAIA Championship Series appearances (and first-round exits) in both the 2020-21 and 2022 seasons as members of the Sooner Athletic Conference. Coach Jeff Bowen has been there from the start and took over the head job prior to the 2016 season, leading ACU to a 55-24 record.
LAST TIME OUT: Stingy defensive play and a potent rushing attack were the stories of SOU’s 23-5 win last Saturday at Rocky Mountain (Mont.), in which the Battlin’ Bears finished with their lowest point total in 18 home games dating back to 2019. They were forced to punt or turned the ball over on downs on eight of their first 10 possessions – netting 10 rushing yards on 26 attempts and averaging a lowly 5.3 yards per pass on 52 tries – while the Raiders got three rushing touchdowns from Avery McCuaig in the first half to take a commanding lead. They totaled 280 yards on the ground, getting 6.7 per rush, and left with their first win in Billings since 2016.
- Avery McCuaig was voted the FC Offensive Player of the Week for totaling 132 yards and three TDs on 18 carries, but he wasn’t the only Raider who found success on the ground: Isaiah Hidalgo went for 148 yards on 14 rushes, including a 55-yarder that marked the longest of the season for any Raider. The last time SOU produced two 100-yard rushers in the same game was in 2018 at College of Idaho, where Rey Vega and quarterback Wyatt Hutchinson did the job. You have to go back to 2005 to find the last time two SOU running backs went for 100-plus yards: Jacobe Krizman and Micah Russell accomplished the feat against Baker (Kan.).
- McCuaig has scored eight rushing TDs in SOU’s last four games, matching Gunner Yates (currently a redshirt) and Mike Olson (2012) for the most in a four-game stretch during the Frontier era. The senior is tied for the FC lead in rushing TDs (8), ranks second in rushing yards per game (68.4) and fourth in yards per carry (5.0).
- The Raiders’ defensive display at Rocky marked the first time they’d allowed five or fewer points on the road since shutting out Carroll five years ago. It was also the first time in the team’s 799 all-time games that they’d given up exactly five points.
- The Raiders’ average of 3.6 sacks per game ranks fifth in the NAIA. After not recording one in their opener, they’ve tallied four or more in four consecutive outings – something no other SOU team has done in at least 20 years. Noah Turnbull leads the Frontier and is No. 3 on the national leaderboard with seven sacks, threatening to become SOU’s first 10-sack player since All-American Sean Rogers in 2018. He and freshman Adonis Jackson both registered a pair at Rocky.
- With interceptions in each of SOU’s last two games, sophomore safety Spencer Kuffel tops the Frontier with four picks this season and is among just 10 players in the NAIA who have reached that total. No Raider has led the Frontier outright in interceptions since Karrington Jones, who recorded seven during the 2015 season.
- The Raiders are converting on 44 percent of their 3rd-down tries, the 19th-best rate in the NAIA. They’re among just three teams in the country with at least 10 red-zone trips to score on each of them, having gone 17-of-17 in those situations.
- Their offensive line deserves lauding, having surrendered fewer sacks (7) than all but one team in the Frontier. They’re also helping SOU generate 4.5 yards per rush, tied for the team’s best clip in eight years.
- Junior quarterback Blake Asciutto got his first start last week and will get the nod again Saturday. In 20 career games at SOU, the Camas, Wash., product has amassed 26 TDs compared to 16 interceptions, and in eight starts last year he averaged a Frontier-best 238.3 passing yards per game.
The Raiders are outscoring opponents 81-39 combined in first halves. They’ve been outscored 70-51 after halftime.
MORE ON ACU:
- Considerable roster turnover after last year’s 8-3 campaign has translated to a slow start for the Firestorm. They debuted in the Frontier with a 21-20 win over MSU-Northern, but the need for a last-minute score in that game was a red flag in itself and they’ve since lost three in a row, though two of those were against title contenders Carroll and College of Idaho.
- Senior Tyler Duncan, a fifth-year starter, is among the more accomplished quarterbacks in the country with 8,539 passing yards and 71 passing TDs to his name. He is completing 58 percent of his attempts for 171 yards per game with seven TDs and five interceptions this year, using Damarreon Nelson (22 receptions, 250 yards) as his most frequent target. He is also a run threat, taking off a team-high 73 times for 40.5 yards per game.
- Out of the fullback spot, freshman Justin Wright is posting 5.1 yards per carry. He’s gone for 40-plus yards four of his last five games and netted 122 in a September nonconference win against Fort Lewis (Colo.).
- The ACU defense is giving up more points per game (34.5) and the second-most yards per game (389.5) in the Frontier. Eastern Oregon lit up the Firestorm for 34 points two weeks ago; it was the Mountaineers’ highest total against anyone other than MSU-Northern in two years.
HOME HISTORY: SOU is 108-69 all-time at Raider Stadium and 1-1 this season. As the designated home team against FC opponents, the Raiders are 35-16 with a 24-4 mark against unranked squads. This will be their last home game of the season against a team outside the NAIA Top 25, with No. 7 Carroll set to visit Oct. 28 and No. 10 College of Idaho on Nov. 11.
AROUND THE FRONTIER: Carroll is the circuit’s last remaining unbeaten team at 5-0 overall and 3-0 in FC play, standing above a trio of one-loss teams entering its game Saturday at Eastern Oregon. At No. 7 in the NAIA coaches’ poll, they, No. 10 College of Idaho and No. 16 Montana Tech got company in this week’s Top 25 from No. 19 Montana Western. The Bulldogs broke through with a 38-28 road upset at Montana Tech.