The Southwest Conference football season couldn’t come fast enough for North Medford, if only to put the nonconference slate behind and hope for better results.

Coming off a lopsided loss to Shasta High of California, the Black Tornado will look to take a step forward Friday night when it opens the SWC at South Eugene.

“This is a big game for us,” said North Medford head coach Mike Mitchell. “If we want to entertain any playoff ideas, we have to start here. We didn’t have a very successful nonconference, but now we start conference and it’s a new ballgame, and that’s how we’ve got to attack it.”

Mitchell said North Medford was forced to take a hard look in the mirror last week after getting steamrolled 69-39 to fall to 0-2 on the season. While the loss wasn’t so bad, the way it happened was certainly disappointing after Shasta carved up North’s defense and the Tornado committed a host of penalties.

“We were real disappointed with how we played; we played poorly,” said Mitchell. “Our point production was pretty good, but to win football games you have to score more than the opponent does, period.”

“The most important thing we were disappointed in was how we played,” he added. “We had penalties that aren’t a sign of a good football team, so we’ve worked hard at cleaning those up this week.”

Shasta ran through the Black Tornado to the tune of 666 yards and had 721 overall, and shoring up the arm tackles and bad positioning that proved costly in that game has been a focus this week in practice.

“It didn’t look like what we’re used to,” said Mitchell. “I think the kids were disappointed, too. We just didn’t tackle well, we didn’t pursue to the ball well, it just didn’t look like us.”

“They were very, very good,” he added. “I’ve got to start where credit’s due. They blocked as good as anybody that we’ve been against in a long time. But we made them good, too. We just didn’t play aggressive and I think we overestimated because we’re playing some guys that haven’t played a whole bunch.”

South Eugene (1-1) boasts a talented running back in senior Oskar Mertz, a 5-foot-10, 200-pounder who ran 17 times for 78 yards last week against Churchill.

Sophomore quarterback Bryce Boettcher is an up-and-coming talent capable of beating teams with his arm and his legs, with senior receiver Elliot James providing a prime target for a team that lacks depth but not effort for head coach Kevin Leonard.

“He doesn’t have a lot of kids out,” Mitchell said of Leonard, “but the guy’s hung in there and they’re playing hard. He’s obviously found a nucleus of about 30 kids that care and I see them getting better.”

An area North Medford certainly can feel good about is its passing game. Against Shasta, senior quarterback Josh Robbins completed 18 of 35 passes for 285 yards, five touchdowns and one interception.

Junior Eli Spence caught three of those TDs and is tied for second in SWC receiving with 184 yards on 11 receptions, while senior Tyler Evans had two first-quarter TD receptions and now has eight catches for 120 yards and three scores.

“I think Josh is growing with every game,” said Mitchell. “He’s a good quarterback and he wants to win. He’s got that little streak in him that I really like and he’ll do whatever it takes to win the game.”

“We had almost 400 yards of offense and normally that would be good, except the other team was getting 700,” added the coach.

North Medford still would like to get more out of its running game, which has a breakaway threat in senior Harley Robinson but hasn’t been able to create enough seams to let that happen.

The Black Tornado has rushed for only 65 yards in two games, which is a far cry from what North coaches and fans are used to. Mitchell said senior Isaac Manuel will get more carries moving forward in hopes of sparking the ground game and providing a complement to Robinson.

“We have to get more out of the running game or we’re not going to do much in conference,” said Mitchell.

“We still think we’re going to be OK,” he added. “We’re going to go up to South Eugene and play as good as we can play; we think we’ve made the adjustments we need to make.”

MARIST AT CRATER: Crater scored in almost every way possible last week to deny South Albany but faces a battle-tested team in Marist that lost to Crescent Valley and Lebanon but held its own.

Sophomore Gavin Acrey played a pivotal role for the Comets (1-1) last week with a 90-yard kickoff return for a score to go with two rushing TDs. Acrey’s effort served to provide balance to Crater’s rushing attack that has been led by senior Cade Weaver (23 carries, 174 yards) and got a boost from junior Tony Flores with 57 yards on 10 carries last week.

Sophomore quarterback Trever Davis continues to develop in head coach Randy Waite’s system and will look to bounce back from a three-interception outing against South Albany.

EAGLE POINT AT SPRINGFIELD: Eagle Point made huge strides from Week 1 with a second-half surge last week that led the Eagles to a 21-13 win over Ridgeview. The Eagles (1-1) will look to build off that against a Springfield team that has been outscored 84-6 by two of the state’s top Class 5A teams in Lebanon and Crescent Valley.

Junior Noah Page has helped power EP thus far, rushing for 219 yards and one TD on 33 carries. Freshman Devin Bradd has run for 127 yards on 29 carries in the Eagles’ run-heavy attack.

An issue for EP has been its passing attack, with Jimmy Kinyon hauling in the only two completed passes of the season for 42 yards and one score.

ASHLAND AT CHURCHILL: Ashland found itself overmatched in last week’s 46-0 loss to third-ranked Summit and doesn’t get any break this week with No. 5 Churchill, which features Washington State commit Myles Green-Richards.

With an almost entirely new cast of playmakers, the Grizzlies (1-1) have struggled to mount much offense, but the defense has allowed 191.5 yards per game and boasts a plus-4 turnover ratio.

Sophomores Austin Harris, DaMario Watson and Rieger Sayre have been tasked with a steep learning curve in the backfield for Ashland, with Sayre assuming QB duties while Harris and Watson have carried a bulk of the load at running back.

They stand to get better with time, but the Midwestern League is very unforgiving, and Churchill has league and state title hopes.

— Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry