ASHLAND -- At 9-0 on the 2017 season, you wouldn't think the SOU Raiders would have much more to play for outside of completing the team's first-ever 10-0 regular season. Based on how many other teams in NAIA are still undefeated, though, they likely have to win simply to have a home playoff game in the first round of the NAIA tournament.
Entering Saturday's game at (22) Montana Tech, the Raiders are ranked fifth in the country. To host the first round, a team has to be ranked in the top eight. To host two playoff games (granted you win the first one), you have to be ranked in the top four. With a win, the Raiders could possibly jump into the top four. With a loss, they could possibly fall out of the top eight.
Add to all this, the fact they're facing their hated rivals in Montana Tech, and Saturday could get very interesting. The Orediggers drove a stake into the middle of the Raiders' logo at midfield during a 2012 Senior Day ceremony at SOU. Ever since then, the rivalry has been more bitter as the Raiders still haven't forgotten the disrespect Montana Tech showed them that day.
"They've shown some disrespect to us, so we're going to go in and no matter what, we want the win," redshirt junior running back Rey Vega said, "We've been told since day one to look at Montana Tech on the schedule. Seeing that we're playing them last, we really want to beat Montana Tech."
"Anybody who disrespects my coach, the late Coach Howard, that rivalry is going to last forever," senior linebacker Isiah Carter said, "Any time we play, it's going to be a tough game, a physical game. I'm just ready for the action."
Beyond getting home field, beyond bragging rights against their hated foes across the way, head coach Charlie Hall said a win, and the undefeated regular season that would come with it, would prove to the team the process they've been using all year is working.
"I think it's huge. I think it would validate everything we've done up to this point," Hall said, "We've had this approach of '1-0 each week' and why should this be any different? I think you try to gain momentum into the postseason."
To have any shot at making it to the postseason, the Orediggers, at 6-3, have to beat SOU. As for whether or not staying undefeated will add to the pressure in the playoffs, the team seemed to indicate the pressure has built with each week, but that's something they're embracing as the playoffs loom.