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Will it be 'home sweet home' for SOU football?

At the very least, the Southern Oregon football team can hang their hat on one this: October, at long last, is officially over.

With two weeks to go in the regular season, the Raiders have yet to completely solve their post-bye week struggles. Last Saturday’s overtime loss to Montana Tech killed off any lingering postseason hopes, meaning today’s game against Montana State-Northern is the second-to-last chance to see Southern Oregon play at Raider Stadium this season.

“(October’s) been a real disappointing month, there’s no doubt about that,” SOU head coach Charlie Hall said. “We’ve had our challenges, we’ve been on the road three out of the last four weeks and have pretty much come up empty handed in terms of trying to get a win. It’s disappointing, I’m hoping it’s not discouraging — although it’s hard not to be because of the expectations and the players who have been in this program prior to this season have a certain expectation as we do as coaches. It’s been difficult to find the solution. I don’t believe our team is defeated, and all we can do right now is play the next two games and try to get a winning season.”

Going 0-for-October has seen a promising season that was shaping up to be one where a lofty preseason ranking was starting to be truly validated turn into one where Hall and Co. are left searching for more answers after each loss.

The Raiders have gone from being ranked second in the nation entering their first game in October to now being out of the NAIA Top 25 completely, the first time that has happened since October 2016.

A program like SOU, one that has achieved as much as it has in recent memory, aims to be competing for a conference title and playoff seeding when the calendar flips from October to November.

Instead, as a result of the winless October, the Raiders’ goals to close out the year have changed drastically from what they were when they reported to preseason training camp.

Rather than trying to win their second consecutive Frontier Conference title, they’re now simply aiming to end the year on a high note and finish with a winning record.

In the preseason, one of those would obviously go with the other.

But now that a postseason berth and a spot in the national rankings are gone, the best the Raiders (4-4 overall, 4-4 Frontier) can do is finish with six wins, half their total from a year ago.

“The message this week, as I look at some of our dysfunction, is that our success last year bled into this year, there was momentum — which was a big theme of ours — and then at some point that momentum stopped,” Hall said. “And I feel like now this is truly my program. We kind of rode the coattails and the emotion of Coach Howard and just all the things that he had done, his loss, the dedication to him and we rode that into our first four games ... then we were a different team. We had different components and were doing different things to try and win football games, and they may have been good enough those first four games, but we struggled trying to make those adjustments.

“I asked our team on Monday: ‘Are we committed to the past and now we’re frustrated and disappointed because we felt good about the way things were in the past and we were winning the way things were done? No one year is going to be the same, for the most part. We need to be more committed to the future, and the things that we’re developing now — whether you like them or not — are going to be things you need for the future as a football player and in life. These are things where you need to embrace that challenge right here.’

“That was my message, and I hope at this point it’s not falling on deaf ears because the season is what it is.”

If there is one bright spot outside of the month of October being over it’s the fact that the team coming to Raider Stadium this weekend hasn’t just struggled after the bye week, but it’s been a rough 2018 season for Montana State-Northern (1-8, 0-8).

The Lights have dropped their last eight games after winning their season opener against Mayville State (N.D.). Over the course of the eight-game slide, Montana State-Northern’s offense has failed to hit a double-digit point total in four of those outings, with the Lights ranking at or near the bottom in just about every statistical category outside of passing offense in the Fronter.

Also of note: Hall isn’t looking at his opposition’s losing streak any more than his own team’s struggles.

“It’s about us playing better football and us playing more disciplined football,” said Hall, whose team is averaging 92.8 penalty yards per game this season. “Part of winning is not beating yourself, and if you look at the last couple of weeks, we’ve done that. That’s not certainly the team I want to represent and we need to do better.”

Hall has preached perspective during the losing streak — both when it comes to the football field and in life.

As disappointing as the last four weeks have been and the reality of no football beyond next Saturday now a certainty, the chance to end this run at home is there.

It might be viewed as a consolation prize to some, but it’s SOU’s reality after such a rough October.

“It’s just an opportunity to go out and hit on all cylinders,” Hall said. “It’s just been kind of frustrating where we struggle, we show life, we have a chance to win it late in the game last week but we didn’t make the big plays when we needed to. It’s one of those things where these are the cards you’re dealt with and we’re not going to quit. We’re going to compete, play the best players that are healthy and able to go out there and play our brand of football.”

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

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