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PREVIEW: SOU in NAIA Semifinals; Taking on #2 Reinhardt University

Raiders in Georgia.JPG

(Courtesy: SOU Sports Information)

Mid-South Conference powerhouse Reinhardt (Ga.) is all that stands between Southern Oregon and its third trip to the national title game in four years. Fans on both sides now taking the accuracy of that sentence for granted would have been baffled not long ago.

Appearing in the NAIA Football Championship Series Semifinals for the second straight season, second-Reinhardt (11-0 overall) put its football program down in 1920 and didn't revive it until 2013. Since then, the Eagles have become notorious for a no-huddle offense with Wing-T roots, churning out more rushing yards per game (360) than anyone in the NAIA, and their defense tops national leaderboards in passing yards (135), rushing yards (65.5) and points (12) allowed per game.

The fifth-ranked Raiders (12-0) will counter with the nation's third-most proficient passing attack, one of the most adept run-defenses in team history and a reputation for extinguishing higher-ranked postseason opponents on the road. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. local time at University Stadium, where two first-year head coaches – SOU's Charlie Hall and Reinhardt's James Miller – will put their perfect records on the line.

How They Got Here: After completing the first unbeaten run through the Frontier Conference for any team since 2010, SOU was unchallenged in a 55-24 first-round victory over No. 13 Dickinson State (N.D.) at Raider Stadium. The Raiders totaled a season-high 630 yards of offense, came up with five defensive takeaways and led 31-3 midway through the second quarter in dominating the North Star Athletic Association champions, but they were pushed for the first time in weeks in last Saturday's 34-29 quarterfinal win at No. 4 Lindsey Wilson (Ky.). The previously-unbeaten Blue Raiders, who won the Mid-South Bluegrass Division, led 29-28 when SOU started the game-winning drive with 2:15 left. Trailing for the first time since its sixth game, Trosin led SOU on a six-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in Rey Vega's six-yard touchdown rush, and Sean Rogers sealed the win by forcing a fumble recovered by Noah Johnson in Raider territory on LWC's final possession.

Reinhardt, which went 6-0 in the Mid-South Appalachian Division, didn't face a top-25 opponent all year until its 39-10 first-round defeat of No. 14 Concordia (Mich.). The Eagles rushed for a season-low 230 yards on 56 attempts, but quarterback Dylan Wiggins completed 15 of 19 passes for a season-high 366 yards. Facing the NAIA's second-best run defense in the quarterfinal round, they hung on to beat No. 12 Georgetown (Ky.) 17-10 last week. They gained 149 yards on 49 carries and were held without a touchdown in the second half, getting a lift from a defense that held Georgetown to 198 yards and shut the visitors out over the final three quarters.

Playoff Picture: Top-ranked defending champion Saint Francis (Ind.) hosts No. 3 Morningside (Iowa) in Saturday's other semifinal. Both teams cruised through the quarterfinals – USF in a 30-3 win over No. 10 Northwestern (Iowa), and Morningside in a 52-7 win over No. 8 Saint Xavier (Ill.).

The resulting semifinal field features four undefeated teams for the first time since 2010. The survivors will get a week off before meeting in Daytona Beach, Fla., where the NAIA National Championship game will be played for the fourth year in a row on Dec. 16.

Series History: Saturday's game will be SOU's first against any school from Georgia. The Eagles have previously played one Frontier Conference opponent: Montana Tech, which they eliminated in last year's national quarterfinals, 27-0, as the Orediggers went down without their injured quarterback and running back.

SOU Championship Series History: The Raiders are in the NAIA FCS for the seventh time overall and the sixth time since it went to a one-division, 16-team format in 1997. They're now 13-5 in the playoff and are working on an NAIA playoff-record five-game road winning streak. Before winning their first championship against Marian (Ind.) in 2014 and advancing to the final for a rematch the next year, they'd been 0-4 in the quarterfinals.

Reinhardt Championship Series History: The Eagles made their first postseason appearance in 2015 and lost in the first round at Saint Francis. Last year they were the No. 3 seed after going 11-0 in the regular season and hosted all three of their playoff games – defeating Southeastern (Fla.) and Montana Tech before a 42-24 semifinal loss to Saint Francis, the eventual champion.

Playoff Quickies:

– After going 3-1 last week, home teams are now 63-19 in the playoff since 2012 and the Raiders are responsible for six of the losses. On the road, they've knocked off two No. 1 teams (Carroll, 2014; Morningside, 2015), a No. 2 team (Baker, 2015), a No. 3 team (Saint Xavier, 2014), a No. 4 team (Lindsey Wilson, 2017) and a No. 8 team (Saint Ambrose, 2012).

– From 1997 (when the current one-division format started) through 2013, home teams went 28-6 in the semifinals. Since then, they've gone 1-5. Baker (Kan.) got that win last year against Eastern Oregon in a game it trailed 41-24 with five minutes left.

– Reinhardt is the only team left that hasn't appeared in the national championship game. USF secured its first title last year but had fallen in its three prior trips to the title game, and Morningside made its only appearance in a 2012 loss to Marian.

– With a 62-37 win in 2014 at Saint Xavier (Ill.), SOU scored more points in the semifinals than any team since 1999. A year later, in a 30-27 semifinal win at No. 1 Morningside, Trosin rushed in the go-ahead score with 1:15 to play.

The Run-Down: When it comes to the discipline and speed necessary to shut down Reinhardt's running game, SOU's All-Frontier linebacker corps is as capable as it gets. Junior middle LB Devvon Gage had 12 more tackles, including two for losses, against Lindsey Wilson and is up to 61 tackles in six career postseason games. With nine more, he'd become the sixth player in Raider history with 300 total career tackles and join senior Isiah Carter in that group. Never before have two players on the same Raider roster owned 300 tackles, and neither one is SOU's leader in that category this season; that distinction belongs to junior Tyson Cooper, whose total of 102 tackles is the 10th-best in the NAIA.

On the line, junior Sean Rogers recorded 1 ½ more sacks last week to bring his team-high total to 11 – the fourth-most in the country this season. He now ranks sixth in SOU history with 18 ½ career sacks, and the Raiders lead the NAIA as a team with 4 ½ per game.

The Vega Line: Speaking of daunting challenges, junior running back Rey Vega is preparing to see a defense that yields 2.1 yards per rush and has given up 1.8 against its first two postseason opponents. Vega punched in two more touchdowns at LWC and has scored five in two playoff games, more than any player still in the field. He's up to 11 TDs in SOU's last six games after scoring two through the first six, and his next TD will be the 20th in his two-year Raider career.

Briefly:

– With another win, the Raiders would match the 2014 team for the single-season school record. Since a 2015 season-opening loss at Carroll, they've won six straight road games against top-25 teams by an average of 5.8 points.

– Tanner Trosin logged his 49th and 50th career TD passes last week and is two away from tying Dan Miles for the No. 2 spot on SOU's all-time list. In six career playoff games, he's thrown 12 TD passes to 10 different receivers; Chase Cole and Isaac Hurd got their first scoring receptions of the season last week. Trosin helped at least one player to 100-plus receiving yards in every game during the regular season but has needed to spread the wealth even more than usual during the playoffs, connecting with 11 receivers in the first round and 10 in the quarterfinals.

– Brosen Ader is 91 reception yards away from logging the ninth 1,000-yard season in school history. (There've been seven since 2012.) Jordan Suell, who leads SOU with 152 reception yards in the playoffs, is 182 yards shy. Ader had five 100-yard games during the regular season and Suell hit that mark four times.

– Twenty-six players on SOU's current roster were around for the run in 2015.

– SOU's defense has blanked opponents on their opening drives nine games in a row. The Raider offense has scored opening-drive touchdowns five of the last six games.

About Reinhardt:

– After going 6-4 each of their first two seasons, the Eagles have gone a combined 33-3 the last three years with an 18-1 record at home.

– Eighty-two percent of Reinhardt's plays from scrimmage have been running plays, though no one on the team averages more than Montralius Mosely's 57.4 rushing yards per game. Mosley also has 10 touchdowns, but 14 others have rushing TDs of their own and 26 have been credited with a rushing attempt.

– Sophomore quarterback Dylan Wiggins ranks 12th in the NAIA in pass efficiency, completing 58 percent of his attempts for 159.8 yards per game, seven TDs and three interceptions. On the other hand, he's attempted 10 passes or fewer seven times this year, and his season-high is 19.

– The Eagles have only allowed more than 200 passing yards in a game one time and have only once given up more than 102 rushing yards. They lead the NAIA in opponents' third-down conversion rate (21 percent) and defensive pass efficiency, rank second in opponents' first downs (148) and rank third in sacks per game (3.9).

– They've compiled a 30-15 turnover margin. Eleven players have gotten in on 19 interceptions, and they've recorded 104 tackles for losses compared to opponents' 51.

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