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Roseburg gains upper hand

Indians top North, take commanding lead in SOC race

North Medford's Tate Mellbye hauls in a touchdown pass from Nate Mayben during first-quarter action.

Roseburg gains upper handIndians top North, take commanding lead in SOC race North Medford went into Friday night's Southern Oregon Conference showdown against Roseburg with a reputation for making big plays.

But the No. 3-ranked Indians gave the No. 8 Black Tornado a taste of its own medicine on the way to a 28-14 victory at Spiegelberg Stadium.

The victory was Roseburg's fifth in a row since a season-opening loss to Beaverton and, more importantly, left the Indians alone atop the SOC with a 4-0 record.

North Medford fell to 4-1 overall and 3-1 in the SOC.

Roseburg quarterback Kevin Linderman and tailback Conway Bixby ran or passed for seven plays that each generated 25 yards or more.

North Medford had but four big-gainers, and one of those came in the final 30 seconds of the game when Tornado quarterback Nate Mayben hit Charlie Jensen on a 79-yard touchdown pass out of punt formation.

That's the biggest high school football team I've seen in 29 years of coaching, but they've got a lot more going for them than just their size, North Medford coach Rod Rumrey said. They've got some good skill kids, too.

One of them, sophomore wide receiver/defensive back Cory Whitman, made the biggest -- and most controversial -- play of the game.

With Roseburg leading 14-6 midway through the second period, Whitman hauled in a 38-yard pass from Linderman at the North Medford 1-yard line. Fullback Matt Manser plowed into the end zone on the following play, giving Roseburg a 21-6 lead.

The North Medford sideline was hopping mad, however, because as Whitman hit the turf the ball wound up in the hands of Jensen, a cornerback on defense for the Tornado. The officials ruled that Whitman had sole possession of the ball when he hit the turf, and the ground cannot cause a fumble.

He got his hands on the ball first but I had it before we hit the ground, Jensen said. It was a tough call.

Whitman, not surprisingly, had a different view.

It was a situation that could have gone either way, but I think I had the ball as we went down, Whitman said. It was one of those calls that can go either way, and you're just happy when it goes in your favor.

North Medford's defense, outweighed by nearly 70 pounds a man up front, yielded 412 yards on the night but didn't give up any more points after the controversy until Bixby galloped 26 yards to paydirt with just over six minutes left in the game.

Bixby finished with 126 yards rushing on 18 carries, but it was Linderman who broke the Tornado's back. The talented QB had runs of 49 and 54 yards, finishing with 123 yards rushing on nine carries, and completed 7 of 14 passes for 120 yards without an interception.

He had a super ballgame, one of his best, Roseburg coach Thurman Bell said of Linderman. He's been our quarterback for three years and he's a winner.

The Indians started the game as if they were going to run away with it. Nick Pappas ran back the opening kickoff 43 yards to midfield and it took the Indians just four plays to find the end zone.

Bixby's 34-yard burst on an option play ate up most of the real estate and Manser went the final 5 yards for the score.

North Medford fumbled on its first possession but made a trademark big play the second time it had the ball when Mayben hit Tate Mellbye on a 55-yard touchdown pass. Mellbye caught the ball along the right sideline just in back of Roseburg's Dan Scevers and raced the distance.

Their defensive back (Scevers) was in pretty good position and I was just praying the ball would get over him, Mayben said.

North Medford had to settle for a 7-6 deficit, however, when Kelly Brown's PAT kick sailed wide to the left.

Roseburg wasted no time striking back, and it was Linderman leading the way.

On the second play from scrimmage after the Indians regained possession, the 6-foot, 180-pound senior broke out of a pile of would-be tacklers and ran 49 yards to the North Medford 21 before being hauled down from behind.

The Indians needed six more plays to crack the goal line, but Manser finally broke through on a 2-yard run and a 14-6 Roseburg lead.

They got a couple of hands on me but I kept my feet going and then all of a sudden I was in the clear, Linderman said.

Roseburg had another chance to score just before the half, driving from its own 27 to the North Medford 7, but Holt's field goal attempt as time expired was blocked.

Other than Mayben's two long touchdown passes, most of North Medford's offense came via his legs. Mayben had 117 yards rushing on 14 carries as he often burned the Indians on option plays and quarterback rollouts, but he completed only 6 of 18 passes for 155 yards and had two passes intercepted.

They're real tough on defense and they're just a great team overall, Mayben said. They lost that early game but I've got to think they're the best team in the state right now.

With wins over Ashland, Grants Pass and now North Medford, Roseburg is virtually a lock to win the SOC title for the first time in three years.

And with just one loss, the Tornado is in pretty good shape itself.

We're still in good position to have a great year, nodded Rumrey. We're still not quite where we need to be to beat the best but at the same time we're awfully close.

I thought we might have caught Roseburg down just a little tonight after their big win over Grants Pass last week, but I think they looked at this game as their final step to the league championship.

photo by Drew Fleming North Medford's Tate Mellbye hauls in a touchdown pass from Nate Mayben during first-quarter action.