When you're striving to make headway with a program, the close losses are the ones that, although they show promise, are also the hardest to move beyond.
North Medford came within a whisker of a 2-0 start in Mike Mitchell's first season with the team one year ago, and it's hard not to ponder what might have been last year had the Black Tornado not stubbed its toe with a 36-30 loss in Week 2 at McKay.
In that game, North Medford had four touchdowns called back due to penalty — a bitter pill to swallow for a program that hasn't enjoyed a winning season since 2005.
"Those kind of games hurt more when you have the chances to win and you don't win," said Mitchell. "It hurts to lose games like that but that's good, we've got to get to the point where games mean something like that. I don't think many games have mattered in the past couple years so hopefully that shows we're becoming a more competitive football team."
The Black Tornado (0-1) will seek to gain some measure of revenge when it plays host to McKay (1-0) at Spiegelberg Stadium on Friday night as the only game slated in the Medford area outside Class 3A Cascade Christian's home date with Henley.
South Medford, Crater, Ashland, Eagle Point and Phoenix are among the local teams that will hit the road on Friday, leaving North Medford as the main event here for football fanatics.
"We're glad to be playing at home, especially when you go through a doubleheader like we did last week (at McNary) when the JV played before the varsity," said Mitchell. "We're facing a pretty good team and an explosive team in McKay. We have to keep them from getting big plays, and we have to do a better job of getting in the end zone ourselves."
North Medford amassed 291 yards of total offense last week against the Celtics but couldn't finish off as many drives as Mitchell would have liked. Quarterback Troy Fowler found good time in the pocket and completed 17 of 26 passes for 190 yards but had two interceptions against one touchdown pass. Fowler's top target was fellow junior Jared Evans, who hauled in five passes for 76 yards and a score, but Eugene Ellis also added five receptions and Nick Janakes provided a dual threat with three catches to go with 18 carries for 90 yards and one TD.
Mitchell also noted the solid play at safety by Micah Brown, at tackle by Jeremy Sparks and at fullback by Will Spence as positives to come out of last week's opener.
"It was a good game and our kids played hard, and I liked that," said Mitchell. "We had a chance to score more than we did but we expect to get rid of the mistakes we made and play better this week."
McKay opened a 28-6 halftime lead on South Albany en route to a 30-14 win last week. Quarterback Sam Harris is the driving force for the pass-happy Royal Scots and the 6-foot-2 senior completed 24 of 35 passes for 238 yards and two TDs last week.
Kris Williams (seven catches for 83 yards) and Jorge Garibay (seven catches for 73 yards and two TDs) headline McKay's deep receiving corps, while Brandon Loa ran for a pair of scores and 105 yards on 20 carries last week.
The Royal Scots changed coaches in the offseason and then made another change on the eve of their season opener, elevating defensive coordinator Brett Rhodes to head coach to replace Kenny Koberstein, who remains on staff as offensive coordinator.
SOUTH MEDFORD AT WESTVIEW — Injuries to three returning starters put a crimp in South Medford's plans last Friday against West Salem. The Panthers still expect to be without the services of Tristian Lallo (compound fracture in finger), Kyle Eli (sprained lateral collateral knee ligament) and Christian Bowley (high ankle sprain) but stand to be better prepared knowing that they'll have to make do before kickoff.
South Medford struggled to get anything going offensively against the Titans, managing only 149 yards of total offense due to breakdowns in the trenches. Quarterback Craig Contreras completed 10 of 23 passes for 111 yards and will look to take a big leap in efficiency this week against a Westview team that allowed only four field goals and a safety last week in a 14-0 loss against Barlow.
Junior tailback Josh Hall expects to shoulder the load at tailback, with wide receiver Brady Breeze looking to build on a strong varsity debut.
Defensively, the Panthers struggled to finish tackles at the point of impact but linebacker Anthony Gomez was a terror on the opposition with his high-octane play.
South Medford won last year's meeting 34-0.
CRATER AT OREGON CITY — Crater nearly was able to topple Tualatin in the season opener despite six turnovers, leaving the Comets optimistic that they're on the right track so long as they can cut down on the miscues.
Oregon City has won the past two meetings with Crater, 45-22 in the 2011 state playoffs and 30-14 in last year's Week 2 matchup. The Pioneers are coming off a 40-14 romp over Gresham that saw Oregon City score on its final four drives to pull away in the second half. The Pioneers are playing without head coach Kevin Strasser, who was arrested prior to the season on an alleged theft of a former player's watch.
Oregon City quarterback Jonathan Wilson has quality support in running back Conner Mitchell (27 carries for 164 yards and one TD) and receiver Trevon Bradford (two TD receptions totaling 88 yards).
Kory Bennett paced Crater with a phenomenal effort against Tualatin, hauling in 10 passes for 185 yards and three scores to go with 33 yards rushing. Senior QB Ty Fox passed for 362 yards and four TDs, spreading the ball to a host of capable targets on the perimeter, but was victimized by four interceptions — three that glanced off the hands of his intended receiver.
With so many quality athletes on the field, the game likely will hinge on Crater's execution through the air or if the Pioneers can control the tempo with their ground game.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry