Just a few hours remain before the bye week officially arrives for the Southern Oregon football team.
But there’s some business to take care of before the Raiders can rest up and know that their walking wounded will have a Saturday off to recharge their batteries and kick their feet up to relax next weekend.
After 16 hours of travel time in the team buses, No. 3-ranked Southern Oregon has made its way to the capital of Montana and Big Sky Country in Helena for its second straight showdown with a team from The Treasure State. After beating a nationally-ranked opponent in Montana Tech seven days ago, the Raiders aim to make it a perfect 4-for-4 heading into the bye week when they face Carroll College this afternoon.
“We’re not at the bye week yet,” SOU head coach Charlie Hall quipped. “There is definitely that game before the bye week.”
While it might not be nationally-ranked teams going against each other, it’s a second straight emotionally-charged matchup against a rival before the Raiders can sit back and watch the rest of the Frontier Conference go after one another.
With its win over Montana Tech, SOU (3-0 overall, 3-0 Frontier) knocked another from the group of unbeatens atop the Frontier standings. The Raiders now have just one other team, Montana Western, alongside them in first place, with both schools holding 3-0 records.
Carroll (3-1, 2-1) — which found out earlier this week that its longtime head coach, Mike Van Diest, has been selected for the NAIA Hall of Fame — and Montana Tech are both one game behind.
Momentum is the Raiders’ slogan this season, and with the bye week right around the corner, momentum is definitely a point of emphasis this week as well.
“I hope that we’ve created that notion that with any success creates confidence and with confidence there’s some carryover into momentum,” Hall said. “It’s a different beast this week traveling two days in a bus and going to Montana. Going on a two-day trip has its challenges. You’re not taking your whole team, so you’re kind of going out there to the wilderness by yourselves. And we’re playing a really good football team. Whatever the rivalry and emotions that came out of last week, we can’t afford a letdown. That’s certainly worries any coach when you have that kind of emotional victory and you’re going to play another good opponent. Can we get back up again and under the circumstances of traveling? We definitely have some challenges.”
Worries regarding the 900-mile trip to Helena aside, the Raiders are coming off another strong second-half showing that turned a relatively close game into anything but that last Saturday.
SOU outscored Montana Tech 28-9 in the second half after taking a 16-3 lead into halftime.
It wasn’t just the offense getting the job done, either. It was all three phases of the game taking control and complimenting one another as well as they have all season.
“Like we did against Eastern Oregon (in the season opener), there was a phase in the second half where one good series on defense led to a good series on offense that led to a big play on special teams and we just fed off of each other,” Hall said. “I think that shows that we have the potential to hit on all three cylinders — offense, defense and in the kicking game — and when we can do that then we can do some amazing things. I’d like to see more of that from a consistent level, but the fact that we can do it is very promising.”
Carroll enters today’s game as one of the top defenses in the Frontier — a huge contributor to the Saints’ early-season success following back-to-back-to-back 4-6 season.
The Saints have allowed all of 14 points apiece in its last two games — both wins — and are seventh in the NAIA with 12 1/2 sacks as a team. (SOU, by way the way, is fifth nationally with 14 sacks.)
The only time a Carroll opponent has come close to scoring 20 points on its defense was in the season opener against Rocky Mountain on Aug. 23. What was originally a 19-0 Rocky Mountain win turned into a 1-0 forfeit victory in favor of Carroll after it was discovered RMC used an ineligible player.
“I think this is going to be their emotional game,” Hall said, referencing the Carroll’s trip to Ashland last season where SOU played its first game at Raider Stadium following the death of former head coach Craig Howard. “We need to need to endure the first part of the game and match that kind of intensity.”
It’s about momentum for the Raiders. And it’s also about consistency.
They do that, and it could very well result in a 4-0 record heading into the bye week.
“It is that mindset that you have to continue to (improve) and there can’t be a letdown,” Hall said. “We talk about the Japanese concept of Kaizen, which is continuous improvement. It is something that I think we’ve embraced a little bit and we will continue to do that.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.