Raiders look for two wins in a row at 24th-ranked Menlo

Fresh off its first win of the season, the Southern Oregon football team can build some momentum in a big way Saturday at 24th-ranked and undefeated Menlo College.

The Raiders (1-3) and Oaks (4-0) square off at noon in Atherton, Calif., where Menlo will be happy to play host after completing an impressive three-game road swing that included wins over Pacific University, Occidental and Whitworth.

Southern Oregon finally gave first-year head coach Craig Howard his first win at SOU last Saturday, clinching a sloppy victory over Webber International in the final seconds when Michael Springer made a diving interception.

Now, it's back on the bus for the road-warrior Raiders, who have already traveled more than 2,800 miles for games.

"It will be a big challenge for our team as we hit the road once again," Howard said. "Menlo is a well-coached team and they're off to a great start.

The Oaks boast a 50-50 run-pass offense, but are far more productive through the air thanks in part to quarterback Matt Pelasasa. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound junior has completed 54 percent of his passes (74 of 138) for 894 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions. Five of those TD passes came in Menlo's first game of the season, a 39-13 home win over British Columbia.

Pelasasa's favorite targets are junior Robert Adan and sophomore Michael Alexander. Adan has 24 catches for 379 yards and seven touchdowns, and Alexander has 22 catches for 349 yards and two TDs.

The Oaks run the ball as much as the they pass it, but have struggled to find holes while averaging 120 yards rushing per game. Leading rusher Thomas Reynolds, a 5-10, 195-pound sophomore, has 30 carries for 184 yards, while junior Kyle Campas has 48 carries for 176 yards.

Defensively, the Oaks — led by senior lineman Chris Tosello and sophomore lineman Camyar Meshkaty — have been stout, holding opponents to 275 yards and 15.8 points per game. Their run defense is especially sturdy, allowing just 49 rushing yards per contest.

Menlo has already racked up a whopping 20 sacks — Tosello has a team-high five and a half and Meshkaty has five.

That combination should provide a stiff challenge to SOU's struggling offense, which has averaged 227 yards and eight points in its last three games.

"We've got to do a good job and hopefully offensively we'll get the ball going," Howard said. "Our defense is playing well, but on offense we need more production."

That was definitely the case last week, when the Raiders rode their defense to a come-from-behind victory despite being held to 42 yards rushing on 32 carries and converting just 5 of 17 third downs.

SOU redshirt freshman Austin Dodge struggled in his second start at quarterback, completing 17 of 36 passes for 188 yards. But Dodge was plagued by dropped passes, including a pair of would-be TDs in the first half, and did complete 2 of 3 passes for 39 yards on what proved to be SOU's game-winning touchdown drive.

Springer, a senior linebacker, leads the Raiders defense with 40 tackles, including six of the "for losses" variety, while fellow senior linebacker Justin Akau is second with 36 tackles.

"(Springer) played great the entire game (against Webber International) and has been an emotional leader for our team all season long," Howard said of the converted fullback. "He's playing lights out and doing a great job."

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