Raiders to take on WOU, history

Raider football will attempt to upset a foe tomorrow that has tormented them for nearly a decade.

Southern Oregon (3-3) and NCAA Division II independent Western Oregon (4-2) will meet on the gridiron for the 73rd time Saturday &

a matchup the Wolves have owned since 1999.

The squads met twice in 2006. The Wolves crushed the Raiders in both instances, 38-0 in Ashland and 53-7 in Monmouth. While such a lopsided affair will no doubt inspire many Raiders this weekend in Monmouth, SOU head coach Steve Helminiak said his team looks at last year as a building process where the scores can be thrown out.

"We haven't talked much about last year just because we're a different football team," Helminiak said. "But I know guys are really excited about playing Western."

The Raiders look to bounce back from a sloppy loss to Linfield a week ago at Raider Stadium. SOU held the Wildcats to .73 yards-per-carry, but seven turnovers sealed the Raiders' fate.

Helminiak believes the turnover problem is a mental situation rather than a physical one.

"It's just a concentration and focus thing," he said. "We've talked about that every day this week. It's a matter of us maturing as a program and understanding that every play you have to be cued into the situation."

SOU's defensive front seven faces a physical, run-happy WOU offense, something they haven't seen in the past couple of games when their run defense put up such impressive numbers. WOU running back Ben Kuenzi is averaging 111.8 rushing yards per game.

Helminiak likes how the Southern defense line, with the recent additions of junior defensive end Ben Baker and senior defensive end Ricky Parker, matches up with Western's front five, but knows realistically that the Wolves' rushing attack won't be completely confined.

"I don't think we're going to shut it down completely," he said. "We have to limit it. They're much more committed to the run than the previous two opponents. This will be a bigger challenge for our defense. I don't think you will see 24 yards rushing by Western, but we have to limit what they average."

On the offensive side of the ball, the Raiders want to get back to spreading the ball around the field as they have in previous weeks. The coaching staff looks to quarterback Bryan Lee-Lauduski (229 yards passing per game) to hit multiple receivers and hopes as many as three running backs can make an impact.

WOU boasts a veteran defensive line and Helminiak said that if SOU is going to be successful with the ball it needs to control the line of scrimmage and spread the field to get a lot of people involved.

"(We want to be) attacking them horizontally, attacking them vertically and then between the tackles," Helminiak said. "We've got to get back to doing that where we force them to defend the entire field, spread their defense out and really make them run on defense. That's the idea this week to beat these guys."

Helminiak's biggest worry is whether his team can limit its mistakes. He said if his team can play four quarters of disciplined football, they will be in good shape against any foe.

"My biggest fear is not necessarily anything that Western is going to do," he said. "I think Western is Western. They're going to try to be physical and run the football, they're going to mix in some shifts and motions on offense. They've got a good quarterback. They're a talented team. Defensively they're going to try to put pressure on our quarterback. They're going to play a physical style on defense. We know all those things going in. That's never been my concern as to what the other team is doing. My biggest fear is how our kids respond to last week, how they rise above it and if we can improve as a disciplined football team."

The Raiders have routinely been behind in the second half this season, often necessitating comebacks. Helminiak's message of focus and concentration applies here as well.

"I think they're really a talented bunch of kids and I think their concentration level gets greater when it gets a little tighter and it forces them to clue it in a little bit more," he said. "At some point during the game it clicks 'Hey, we've got to get things going here if we're going to win this thing.' That's something we're trying to change. If we can get that from the start of the game, you're going to see different results. You're going to see a lot easier wins for us."

The in-state rivalry is not lost on this squad. Dating back to 1927 WOU leads the all-time series 44-26-2. Helminiak hopes to stem the tide of six straight losses to the Wolves as he continues to move his Raiders in the right direction.

"This is a big game for us," he said. "Western is a big rivalry. We appreciate all the fan support this past weekend and hopefully we continue to get some when we come back for our last home game. Hopefully we can provide a little more excitement and get a win this week."

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