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There's a crowd in second place

Loser of coin flip will be out of state playoffs

With his team finally healthy and the state playoffs just around the corner, North Medford High football coach Rod Rumrey can hardly wait for the ball to be kicked off Friday night at Spiegelberg Stadium.

A victory over Eagle Point would assure the Black Tornado (5-3 overall, 4-2 SOC) no worse than a tie for second place and no worse than a 67 percent chance of making the playoffs for the first time since 1995.

Roseburg (5-2, 5-2), which has a non-conference game at Willamette Friday, has already wrapped up at least a share of second and both the Tornado and Grants Pass (5-3, 4-2) can join the Indians in the runner-up spot with victories Friday. GP hosts Klamath Union (1-7, 0-6).

Ashland (8-0, 6-0) has already clinched the No. — state berth. The Grizzlies finish the regular season at Crater (4-4, 3-3).

In case of a three-way tie, a coin flip will be held late Friday night to eliminate one of the contending teams.

We can't totally control our (playoff) destiny but we do have the opportunity to have a 6-3 season and finish no worse than tied for second in one of the toughest conferences in the state, Rumrey says. That's pretty good incentive for our kids.

A slew of injuries decimated North Medford last month -- the Tornado was missing as many as eight starters during a three-week period -- but has regrouped just in time for the stretch run.

Getting all those kids back has obviously been a big boost for our football team, Rumrey says. I think we played one of the toughest schedules any team could have and it took a toll, but now we're pretty much at full strength.

The only injured player still on the sidelines is wide receiver/defensive back Jake Scheid, who suffered a neck injury against Grants Pass on Oct. 16. And Scheid could be cleared to play by Friday's 7:30 p.m. kickoff, Rumrey says.

North Medford ran up a 35-7 lead over Crook County last Friday in what Rumrey terms our best half of the season. The 35-21 final score soured the coach's perspective a bit, but having his front-line players intact was the main thing.

Rumrey was also pleased with the re-emergence of quarterback Nate Mayben, who threw a total of eight interceptions in losses to Grants Pass and Marshfield. Mayben completed 10 of 14 passes for 132 yards, two touchdowns and only one interception against Crook County.

After the Marshfield game, Nate flat-out told the coaches he no longer was going to turn the ball over, Rumrey says. He was under a lot of duress in those games (Grants Pass and Marshfield) and no one was blaming him, but he just said, `that's enough.'

Rumrey is also encouraged by a Tornado defense that regained its ferocity against Crook County.

Tackle Jesse Gelsinger and ends Brent Rhodes and John Bracken all had strong outings last week, Rumrey said.

Offensively, Rumrey is excited about sophomore tailback Phil Oullette, a 5-foot-7, 154-pound speedster who racked up 88 yards on 12 carries against Crook County, including a 29-yard dash to paydirt.

Oulette was elevated from the junior varsity two weeks ago and is now splitting duty with Steve DeClerck.

I'm kind of kicking myself for not bringing him up earlier, Rumrey says of Oulette. He's very quick. DeClerck is more of a power runner whereas Oulette can take it the distance on the perimeter if we can spring him loose.

Speaking of tailbacks, Eagle Point boasts of a dandy in Sean Johnston, who ranks second in the SOC in rushing with 862 yards and six touchdowns.

However, the Eagles don't have many other weapons on offense and have struggled to put points on the board. They managed only one TD in last week's 24-7 loss to North Bend and were shut out by Grants Pass the previous week.

Defensively, we've been playing pretty well but we keep leaving our defense on the field too long, Eagle Point coach Mike Johnston says. But our kids have never quit and I know they'll get up for North Medford.

The Eagles are now starting eight underclassmen on defense including a pair of mammoth tackles -- 6-4, 260-pound junior Jake Kleker and 6-foot, 235-pound Blake Cam.

Linebackers Joey Kyttle and Matt Bray and defensive backs Sean and Kevin Johnston and Evan Pogue are also performing impressively, coach Johnston says.

A look at the other playoff hopefuls:

GRANTS PASS --The Cavemen had won five straight before getting ambushed by Roseburg, 42-7, last week.

Running back Chuck Martin, who ranks fifth in the SOC in rushing (639 yards, 6 TDs) has been hampered by a broken wrist and was held to a minus-three yards against Roseburg.

But Grants Pass has the No. 2 defense in the SOC and shouldn't have any problem steamrolling Klamath Union.

ROSEBURG --Since a 35-21 loss to Ashland on Oct. 9, the Indians have regrouped and now look like the team everyone thought they'd be in the preseason, when they were picked to win the SOC.

Quarterback Kevin Linderman has made like Brett Favre in lopsided victories over South Medford, Crater and Grants Pass. The 5-11, 175-pound junior has completed 28 of 38 passes for 593 yards, eight touchdowns and only one interception in the three games.

We've got a quarterback who can throw and some receivers who can catch, so we're taking advantage of that, Roseburg coach Thurman Bell says.

But it's Roseburg's rock-solid defense that is pulverizing the opposition.

With tackle ron Rinaker, linebacker Jamie Norton and defensive backs Dustin Michalek and Ryan Poe leading the way, Roseburg has shut out its last three opponents, held Crater to a minus-seven yards rushing and Grants Pass to 108 yards in total offense.

Right now we're playing as good of defense as any team I've ever had, said Bell, now in his 28th season at Roseburg. Poe was out of the lineup early-on and Rinaker was struggling with a pinched nerve in his neck. Now they're both at full strength, or close to it, and that makes a huge difference.

North Medford juniors Nate Mayben (12) and Sean Preston (61) celebrate again Friday night.