Now, after the Raiders’ lone home game in the month of October, SOU is looking right in the face at its first legitimate losing streak since the Craig Howard era.
Eastern Oregon rolled into Ashland and absolutely crashed seventh-ranked Southern Oregon’s homecoming party at Raider Stadium, as the No. 24 Mountaineers scored 17 unanswered second-half points and claimed a 27-17 upset win over the Raiders on Saturday afternoon.
“What I know we can do better is late in the game when we needed more energy, we got it from our sideline and things were picking up with a greater sense of urgency and clearly we need to start games with that,” said head coach Charlie Hall, who suffered his first home loss since taking over the SOU program last year. “We’re just not good enough right now to just go out there and say, ‘We’re the Southern Oregon Raiders, we look pretty good,’ and just go out there and do our thing. We don’t really have that level of confidence or the ability right now. We just haven’t demonstrated it consistently.”
After going into the bye week 4-0, the Raiders have now lost back-to-back games for the first time since late in the 2016 season. Saturday also marked the first time since Nov. 12, 2016, that a team other than Southern Oregon had recorded a win at Raider Stadium.
“I told the team after the game that we’re good enough to go 4-0, but we’re not good enough to sustain that level of play because people, now that they’ve seen you play, they’re going to attack your weaknesses, make you defend their strengths and right now we’re just not doing a very good job of that,” Hall said.
Just two weeks ago, SOU was on top of the Frontier Conference standings.
With two straight losses, the Raiders (4-2 overall, 4-2 Frontier) now find themselves in a three-way tie for second place and in a position in which one more loss could seriously hurt their chances of making the postseason.
“The year (2016) we went 5-6 was the last time we were in this situation,” SOU senior linebacker Devvon Gage said. “We have those players still that were on that team that went 5-6, so we know when things go bad and when things are going off. We have to rely on our senior leadership, we have to rely on those carrying people forward and making every day a work day.
“We only have to get better from here, we can’t get worse and that’s the simple message.”
An offense that was playing efficient and near-error-free football heading into the bye week has now struggled to find a consistent rhythm in two straight games.
SOU’s struggles offensively reached a point Saturday where the Raiders turned to a quarterback other than sophomore Wyatt Hutchinson to try and get things going. Hutchinson’s backup, Chase Knutz, saw his first significant action of the 2018 season in the fourth quarter. Knutz’s day got off to an inauspicious start with an interception on the second pass he threw, but he was also responsible for the Raiders’ first offensive touchdown of the day with 5:15 to play a 31-yard strike to wideout Isaac Hurd that cut the deficit to 20-10.
Hutchinson, who finished 19-of-36 and threw a pair of interceptions, and Knutz combined to throw for 220 yards.
SOU, as a team, was outgained 394-306.
It might be too early to tell if Hall and offensive coordinator Ken Fasnacht have a looming quarterback decision to make, and a lot could depend on the health of Hutchinson, who came off the field hobbling several during the game.
No matter who’s at quarterback, the Raiders’ offense isn’t humming the way it was prior to the bye week.
“It was kind of hard to get it clicking,” SOU senior running back Rey Vega said. “Usually we come out here and we’re shooting our shots all game long and it usually lands in the beginning. It took us a little longer to click and make the big plays that we needed to.”
Eastern Oregon (4-2, 4-2) never trailed in the game, as the Mountaineers were able to take an early 3-0 lead after Southern Oregon muffed the opening kickoff. The Raiders pulled even at 3-3 on their first drive thanks to Marcus Montano’s 25-yard field goal.
The two teams exchanged punts and played the field position game for the next 30 minutes of game time before EOU took a 6-3 lead four minutes into the second half on another short field goal by kicker Nathan Harden.
By the time the third quarter ended, SOU found itself in a 20-3 hole after Victor Dias scored on a short touchdown run and EOU quarterback Kai Quinn ripped off a 76-yard run right through the heart of the Raiders defense.
As well as SOU’s defense played in the first half EOU recorded just 81 yards of total offense before the half big plays came back to haunt the Raiders as the game went on.
“We just need to eliminate the big plays,” said SOU defensive back Dareion Bell, who made five of the Raiders’ nine pass breakups in the game. “If we would have done that, the scoreboard would be looking a lot different.”
EOU answered Knutz’s first career TD pass with a 31-yard strike from Quinn to TJ Hancock to make it 27-10. SOU, however, got a 95-yard kickoff return from Jason Shelley to quickly make it a two-possession game again.
The Raiders recovered the ensuing onside kick, but they turned it over on downs and any lasting hopes of a late-game comeback were dashed.
“Believe, you know? Always believe,” Gage said in regard to Hall’s post-game message. “That’s what have to do, that’s what this team is built off of is belief. That’s what this team runs off of and when somebody gets down negatively, we can’t have that. We have to be positive leaders and we have to get better. We just have to work.”
Eastern Oregon 27, Southern ORegon 17
At Raider Stadium
EOU Harden 21 field goal
SOU Montano 25 field goal
EOU Harden 29 field goal
EOU Dias 1 run (Harden kick)
EOU Quinn 76 run (Harden kick)
SOU Hurd 31 pass from Knutz (Montano kick)
EOU Hancock 31 pass from Quinn (Harden kick)
SOU Shelley 97 kickoff return (Montano kick)
EOU Quinn 13-86; Dias 18-83; Moore 7-9.
SOU Hutchinson 9-49; Vega 13-30; Clemmons 3-16; Knutz 1-(-9).
EOU Quinn 16-40-0 216.
SOU Hutchinson 19-36-2 160; Knutz 7-13-1 60.
EOU Hancock 4-88; Kelly 4-82; Chavez 3-27; Giacci 2-13; Falk 2-7; Dias 1-(-1).
SOU Hurd 4-45; Randle 5-44; Shelley 6-36; Vega 4-35; Ader 2-25; Graney 2-20; Barnes II 1-9; Te’o 1-5; Clemmons 1-1.