Raiders football team is headed for NCAA D-I South Dakota

Following a bye week and hopefully still riding high after back-to-back victories, the Southern Oregon football team heads to NCAA Division I South Dakota on Saturday.

The Raiders (3-5) are coming off victories over NAIA rival Azusa Pacific and NCAA Division III third-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor.

SOU coach Steve Helminiak said last week's bye week hit just in time.

"Our last three games (Western Oregon, Azusa, Mary Hardin-Baylor) were extremely physical games," Helminiak said. "We had some guys get banged up and it was good to shut some people down last week."

Helminiak also said it wasn't tough to get the team focused for this week.

"It's another big game and another big challenge," he said. "We've had a great week of practice and the guys are focused and ready to go."

Playing an NCAA Division I team is nothing new to NAIA Independent Raiders. SOU traveled to Idaho State last year and gave Sacramento State all it could handle earlier this year before losing.

"We shouldn't be awestruck to be playing an D-I team," Helminiak said. "We've played in these situations before and that should help us."

The Coyotes enter Saturday's game with a 4-4 record. The four victories have all come against NAIA or NCAA Division II teams, including a 63-0 victory over D-II North Greenville last weekend.

"They are bigger and more physical than Sac State," Helminiak said.

"But they don't possess the speed on the perimeter that Sac State had."

Quarterback Noah Shepard has thrown for 1,510 yards and also is second on the team with 428 yards rushing. Receiver Dan Skelly has caught 42 balls for 779 yards for the Coyotes.

The Raiders have come into their own offensively over the last two games, starting with the change at quarterback. Senior J.C. Hunsaker is now 2-0 as starter of the Raiders and the squad began to open things up offensively against Mary Hardin-Baylor.

"Our ineffectiveness limited what we could offensively," Helminiak said. "J.C. has shown the ability to move the sticks and that opens things up."

The play of the Raiders offensive line and senior running back Marlon Rosales has also helped the offense. Rosales has run for more than 100 yards in four of the last five Raider games.

"The offensive line is allowing things to happen and Rosie is running the ball really well," Helminiak said.

After this weekend's trip to South Dakota, the Raiders will wrap up the 2008 season Nov. 15 at Eastern Oregon.

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