Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
Sharing is great if you're a toddler with toys or a wily veteran overflowing with wisdom. But when you're a teenaged athlete and an outright championship is yours for the taking, the last thing you want to consider is sharing.
That's precisely the mindset for the fifth-ranked North Medford football team as it heads into Friday's regular season finale against Roseburg at Spiegelberg Stadium.
The Black Tornado has already clinched at least a share of the Southwest Conference title — a feat it last accomplished in 2005 — but North Medford (7-1, 6-0 SWC) controls its own destiny in pursuit of the school's first outright title since 2003.
"I've never really been one for sharing," Black Tornado head coach Mike Mitchell said in tongue-in-cheek fashion after last week's rout of South Medford.
A win over the Indians, who opened the season 5-0 before three straight losses, would mean an eighth straight triumph for North Medford and allow it to enter the Class 6A state playoffs brimming with confidence.
"I thought we played with real passion last week, which is something we've been trying to get all along," said Mitchell. "I was real pleased with how we played against South Medford. Now we have to keep that same kinda thing going as we go into the final game here and begin a playoff run. If we play like we did Friday night, I think we can win some games."
With the Southwest Conference schedule coming to an end on Friday, wins are definitely at a premium even for those beyond North Medford. Grants Pass plays host to No. 4 Sheldon in a battle of teams tied for second behind the Tornado at 5-1 in SWC play, while Roseburg (5-3, 3-3) looks to secure an automatic berth into the state playoffs as one of the top four finishers from the SWC.
South Medford seemingly did its cross-town rival a favor earlier in the season win it pinned the first loss on Roseburg and allowed North Medford to assume sole possession of first place in the SWC. The Black Tornado can return the favor with a win over the Indians that, combined with a Panthers win at Crater, would vault South Medford into that pivotal No. 4 spot.
The Comets, like Thurston and South Eugene, are locked into a date with the play-in round on Nov. 1 regardless of Friday's outcomes since Roseburg owns a tiebreaker with Crater.
Sparking North Medford all season has been junior quarterback Troy Fowler, who became the school's single-season record holder in passing yards during last week's 28th annual Black and Blue Game. Fowler's 2,044 yards are just ahead of the record held since 2003 by Kevin Foreman (2,041), and his 22 touchdown passes are only two off the single-season record of 24 set by Beau Hovland in 2000.
Fowler has completed 128 of 208 passes with only five interceptions, while also running 49 times for 203 yards and four scores.
North Medford junior running back Nick Janakes has settled in as the No. 2 rusher in the SWC — behind Roseburg's Levi Holden — with 883 yards and nine TDs on 170 carries, while Jared Evans, Tristen Holmes, Eugene Ellis and Josh Hansen continue to create matchup problems on the perimeter. All four have been around 100 yards receiving in a game this season, and each has the ability to go up and get Fowler's offerings.
In Roseburg, the Black Tornado has its hands full with a run-based attack that has stood the test of time under head coach Thurman Bell. The Indians have run for an average of 252 yards per game, with Holden at the forefront thanks to 1,235 yards and 12 TDs on 196 carries.
"They haven't changed much in forever, they really haven't," said Mitchell. "You're going to have to stop Thurman's fullback and he's got a tailback he likes to pitch the ball out to and then they'll counter by working in a pass every now and then to keep you honest."
Fullback River Sigrest has accounted for 420 yards and 10 TDs on 75 carries, while quarterback Cody Walker has missed most of the last two games after suffering a concussion during a 21-14 loss to Sheldon. Walker's status for Friday's game is still to be determined but, in his absence, Noah Avery has held his own during close losses to the Irish and Grants Pass. Avery has completed 14 of 33 passes for 251 yards with three scores and two interceptions behind a veteran offensive line.
North Medford and Roseburg are tied atop the SWC in total defense, with each allowing an average of 320.9 yards per game.
"You treat an option team like you do a passing quarterback," said Mitchell, "they're better on the bench than they are on the field. From our standpoint, the more productive our offense can be and more sustained drives there are then they don't get a chance to get their option game going."
SOUTH MEDFORD AT CRATER — Both teams stand 2-6 overall and 2-4 in the SWC but there's still plenty riding on Friday's game at Dutch Meyer Field.
The Comets will be vying for a third straight victory and chance to send their homecoming crowd off on a high note. The Panthers need a win to snap a two-game losing streak and potentially secure a chance to skip the play-in round.
"We always say every game is a big game," said Crater senior quarterback Ty Fox, "but this is a pretty big game to get momentum going into the playoffs. This could really set the tone for us."
As the state's leading passer, Fox has been the tone-setter all season for the Comets, who routinely find themselves in shootouts thanks to a high-powered offense and a defense that has struggled to slow anyone thus far.
"They're not afraid to go and outscore you," said South Medford head coach Bill Singler. "I don't know if we have that in us to get into a game where we have to score 40 points to win it."
While the Comets are willing to fling the football all over the field, the Panthers counter with a more patient, ball-control system that relies on running backs Josh Hall (89 carries for 544 yards) and Anthony Gomez (54 carries for 477 yards and eight TDs). Senior Christian Bowley suffered an ankle injury early last week and is doubtful for Friday's game.
"They do things that they need to do to win football games, plain and simple," said Crater head coach John Beck. "That's Bill's deal, he likes winning, it doesn't matter how."
In contrast, Fox and company have shown a knack for big plays en route to averaging 423 yards and 31 points per game.
"I'm very impressed with their skill guys, from the quarterback to the receivers and backs, they're putting up big numbers," said Singler. "We know the job we have ahead of us."
That job becomes even more challenging with someone like Fox, who can fit a football into a tight window and has the ultimate trust in his receivers and running backs.
"He's not afraid to put it down there even when the guys are covered," said Singler. "He trusts his receivers to go get the football so that does scare you a little bit. Even if guys look like they're covered, in his mind they're not and he believes and trusts those kids to go get the ball."
"Hopefully we've learned a lot from our experience last week against North (in a 42-14 loss)," added Singler, "and hopefully we're a week better at covering because if we're not, it's going to be a long night."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry