Through its first four games of the 2018 season, the Southern Oregon University football team has taken every challenge that’s come its way and promptly passed each test.
The Raiders’ bye week has come and gone. And with the return of the Raiders means arguably their biggest game of the season to date as the midway point officially arrives.
With a brand new No. 2 national ranking in toe, SOU has made its way back to Montana for the second time in the last three Saturdays for this afternoon’s showdown with Frontier Conference rival and No. 21-ranked Rocky Mountain.
“I like that we’re coming right back into the fire, if you will, with a talented opponent and the opponent that probably has the most skill that will be able to match us with speed,” SOU head coach Charlie Hall said. “It will be challenge — especially going over there.”
The trip to Billings marks the start of a stretch where three of the Raiders’ four games in October will be on the road.
“We’ve got our hands full this month,” Hall said. “It just ties into the whole theme of momentum. Did we lose momentum over the bye? Or were we able to stay sharp based on those practices that we had a week ago? Did we stay emotionally strong and been able to take what we’ve learned and how we want to continue to improve into the second half of the season?”
The Week 5 bye week that stretched throughout the conference means that both SOU (4-0 overall, 4-0 Frontier) and Rocky Mountain (3-2, 2-2) have had two weeks to prepare for one another.
The two schools are coming off of two very different kinds of wins, though.
Southern Oregon, currently a game up in the Frontier standings over Montana Tech and Montana State-Western, claimed its second straight win in convincing fashion, 27-0 over Carroll College, two weeks ago.
Rocky edged The College of Idaho 42-41 on Sept. 22, with the Battlin’ Bears two games back of the first-place Raiders, thanks in part to their season-opening shutout of Carroll that turned into a forfeit after the participation of an ineligible player.
“I think part of that is taking care of internal things and taking care of our health with the guys that were banged up the first couple of games,” Hall said. “There was a couple of practices last week that got pretty intense and it became more of spring ball practice — and that’s a good thing because you don’t want to lose your edge.”
A season that has been centered around carrying the momentum from a year ago throughout the 2018 campaign certainly saw the Raiders go into the bye week with plenty of wind in their sails.
Now they look to replicate the kind of performances they had in Weeks 3 and 4 against a Rocky team that was the preseason pick to be SOU’s closest competition for the Frontier title.
Also important: SOU has played some of its best ball away from home this season with its second-half dismantling of Eastern Oregon and then its win over Carroll, the Raiders’ first shutout in 15 years.
“We have ‘Defend the Rock’ here with the Coach Howard rock, and I like to think that we have a model in place of how we travel,” Hall said. “Our players have a maturity about them that they go about their business and realize that it’s not a vacation. ... It’s really a state of mind. Once you get on that bus and you’re ready to go to the stadium, everything will lock in like any other week.”
A win over Rocky Mountain will not only give Southern Oregon its longest regular-season winning streak in program history — the current mark of 14 was first established all the way back in 1947 — but also ensure the Raiders will, at the very least, keep their one-game lead atop the Frontier standings.
SOU, based on how it went into the bye, is on an upward trajectory that it would like to maintain.
And being highly-ranked heading into the meat of the schedule after the bye week, that’s nothing new for these Raiders.
Hall is well aware of that.
“That’s the trick is not being complacent,” Hall said. “We do have guys like Devvon Gage and Tyson Cooper and guys from the 2015 team that went all the way to the national championship game and know that there’s a process. You can’t have a letdown. We would love to be able to control our own destiny, but if you want to do that you cannot take the foot off the gas right now.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.