When it comes to early-season tests, Southern Oregon head coach Charlie Hall is all for ‘em.
This afternoon, Hall and the Raiders will most certainly get just that.
The two teams that have accounted for the last three Frontier Conference titles will be on the same Raider Stadium field come 1 p.m. today, as a top 25 showdown between No. 3-ranked Southern Oregon and No. 23 Montana Tech will be the mid-September marquee matchup in the conference this weekend.
“I love playing a meaningful game in September,” Hall said. “Typically, when you get to meaningful games, a loss here kind of knocks you out the hunt for a playoff berth or the hunt for a championship. But you never know what happens today could affect the future.”
Both Southern Oregon and Montana Tech — which moved into the national rankings earlier this week — enter 2-0 on the season and in conference play. And just for kicks, the Raiders and Diggers have both claimed wins over The College of Idaho and Eastern Oregon to open the season.
Coincidence? Sure, but that’s just how the schedule has shaken out.
This afternoon’s game in Ashland might not immediately decide this season’s conference champion, but it will have implications regardless for two of the top teams in the Frontier going.
“I think that the focus is more about that we have another chance to play at home, we have another chance to get back-to-back wins,” Hall said. “A winning season is putting back-to-back wins together, and with every back-to-back win sets you up for your next milestone, which is your winning season. Then with your winning season, your next milestone is going to be qualifying for or making the playoffs. To me, it’s more about achieving those milestones than who it is.”
SOU, which is playing the back end of back-to-back weekends at home, has yet to lose a game at Raider Stadium under Hall’s watch.
The Raiders’ regular-season winning streak reached 12 games with their home-opening victory over College of Idaho seven days ago. Two more and they will match the school record of 14 set in the 1946-47 seasons.
And while SOU faced a C of I team last week that was desperate to get any kind of success going, this weekend will see Montana Tech looking to not only keep the good times going but also try and pull off its own early-season upset.
“Much like College of Idaho, I’m expecting to get their best shot,” Hall said of Montana Tech, which was picked to finish in a tie for third in the Frontier’s preseason coaches’ poll. “If they’re going to make that statement and build on that momentum that they’re having and getting into the top 25, a win for them would be huge — especially since we play them twice and to always win at the opponents’ place that first game is huge because then you get to defend home court in that next game.”
Like just about every coach, Hall’s desire was to see his team make a big improvement from Week 1 to Week 2.
The Raiders’ home opener saw things offensively centered around senior running back Rey Vega, who earned conference player of the week honors after his 24-carry, 158-yard performance. Vega’s 131 rushing yards per game average is currently second in the Frontier Conference behind Montana Tech running back Jed Fike.
Southern Oregon’s defense, one that once again leads the nation in sacks with 11 in the early goings on 2018, will obviously have Fike high up on its priority list.
But Hall expects the Diggers to be a very balanced and physical team to face on both sides of the ball.
And when it comes to the Raiders securing a second straight 3-0 start in as many seasons with Hall, another week in improvement may very well result in win No. 100 at Raider Stadium for SOU.
“I think the one thing that I take away from last week is that while I would have liked to see some more improvement in some areas, but I think there was a little bit of grit that we showed in the second half,” Hall said. “The game was on the line and we showed some toughness in the ability to win the game when it was close. That’s always a good opportunity early in the season to see if you can do that.”
Contact Danny Penza at 541-776-4483 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @penzatopaper.