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Raiders face must-win situation

In some ways, Southern Oregon University head coach Charlie Hall can pinpoint what exactly is going on with his team during the Raiders’ current three-game losing skid.

In other ways, the Raiders’ leading man is left scratching his head.

“One of the words I talked to the team about on Monday after breaking down the good, the bad and the ugly of the (College of Idaho) game is that, it sticks out to me, we’re a little bit of an enigma,” Hall said. “It’s a very puzzling situation that we’re in where we have talent, we have good enough players to do things, but then again we can’t make those plays or we’re not consistent enough therefore we’re definitely not good enough.”

With postseason hopes fading and a national ranking now in the 20s, Southern Oregon’s season has gone from unbeaten to in need of answers in just the matter of three games. The Raiders’ final road trip sees them make one last venture in 2018 to Montana where SOU will face the team it claimed its last win against — Montana Tech, which just so happens to have also lost its last three games.

With three regular-season games to go, playoff hopes aren’t completely dashed for the Raiders since the trend in the Fronter Conference this season has been that everybody beats up everybody else.

That means Southern Oregon (4-3, 4-3) will have to win out and hope to get some help along the way to jump over the three teams in front of the Raiders — Eastern Oregon, Rocky Mountain and first-place Montana Western — get beat along the way before potential tiebreakers come into play.

Montana Western, which comes to Ashland for the regular-season finale in two weeks, is the lone Frontier team with one loss on the year.

In the last two decades, no team has ever won the conference title with more than two losses.

And as much as there still is an outside shot at the postseason, Hall doesn’t want to hang his team’s hat on that.

Essentially, it’s more about getting right compared to anything else.

“You just start looking at all of those things externally and it just builds up pressure,” Hall said. “There’s going to be pressure out there, and I like to think the pressure comes from the inside and we’re going to create pressure from ourselves and we’re going to change things, be accountable, have positive leadership that helps us do the things that need to be done.”

For all the good things that happened for SOU prior to the bye week, it’s been the complete opposite in the three games after the Raiders’ week off.

The Raiders’ offense came back to life last Saturday after struggling against Rocky Mountain and Eastern Oregon, recording nearly 550 yards of total offense thanks to big days from quarterback Wyatt Hutchinson and running back Rey Vega.

However, as has been the trend during their losing streak, when one phase of the game thrives, another one falters. Against College of Idaho, it was SOU’s defense, as Yotes quarterback Darius James-Peterson recorded 366 yards of total offense (266 passing, 100 rushing) and accounted for six touchdowns in the 45-34 win over the Raiders.

C of I’s 510 yards of total offense was the first time an opposing team surpassed the 500-yard mark against the SOU defense since the 2016 season finale, a 38-27 loss to Montana Tech.

“We just need to play all three phases of the game and play a game in concert with one another,” Hall said. “It can’t be a ‘first one to 50 wins,’ it can’t be a low-scoring game. You go back to the first game of the year, most teams will beat themselves than will go out and win a game. We’re kind of at that point where we’re finding ways to beat ourselves. We need to keep things simpler so we don’t go outside of our ability and, not necessarily try and play conservative, but we just have to do a better job of not beating ourselves rather than trying to make things happen.”

The month of October was always going to be a difficult one with three of four games on the road.

It’s proven to be SOU’s most difficult month yet.

And if there’s going to be any remaining hope of a playoff spot coming back to Ashland with them, the Raiders will have to turn in a game more like the last time they faced the Orediggers rather than what they’ve put forward this month.

“Nobody’s giving up. There is this attitude that we expect to be better, we will be better — we’re positive in that aspect,” Hall said. “I’ve talked to them about that this is a challenge to right this ship and change the momentum and play great football that deserves a win. It’s hard, but I don’t think they’re afraid of the hard. It’s tough on a team like this because they’re discouraged because they expect so much and they’re not used to that. It’s a little bit about learning yourself and how you handle that adversity.”

Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.

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