ASHLAND, Ore.—The Frontier Conference has sent a team to the NAIA National Championship game in 10 of the last 15 years, and because of it, it’s established a reputation.
"For any team to be in the Frontier Conference, it is the SEC of the west, of small college football," defensive coordinator James Gravelle said.
As Southern Oregon begins its trek to its third title game appearance, it can sleep easy, knowing it’s faced some of the toughest competition.
Meanwhile, for the Raiders’ opponent in Dickinson State, it’s a thought that could keep the Blue Hawks up at night as they head into Saturday’s first round matchup.
In the span of a few years, the Blue Hawks have gone from cellar dweller in the Frontier Conference to NAIA playoff regular. They won one game in twenty tries during their two years in the Frontier, and have since rattled off a 24-2 record in the North Star Athletic Association.
This year’s team, on paper, is SOU’s antagonist: Its biggest strength on offense is the Raiders biggest strength on defense.
"They're leading the country in sacks against,” Gravelle said. “They're giving up 0.7 sacks a game. Southern Oregon's leading the country in sacks. It's going to be a test for us on Saturday. Hopefully our D-line and the back seven in coverage can handle the pressure."
"We don't need to change,” said defensive coordinator Grant Torgerson. “I think obviously what we've been doing all year has worked and our defensive line group has been awesome in the meeting room of understanding the different pass protections that teams can get us in different situations and just continue to work hard Monday through Friday."
Torgerson went on to say that DSU likes to get the ball out quickly. And sure enough, the Blue Hawks average pass attempt is three yards shorter than SOU’s (about six yards in comparison to nine yards), which could be an explanation as to why their offensive line rarely gives up sacks.
The Raiders and Blue Hawks kick off at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Ashland.