Roseburg to test North's invincibility
Roseburg High football coach Thurman Bell got a call earlier this week from a fan who was willing to pay $35 for a season ticket just to watch Friday night's game at Finlay Field.
The man thought he was getting a bargain.
And considering the matchup — — No. 3-ranked Roseburg versus No. 5-ranked North Medford — he might be right.
It's quite possibly the game of the year in the Southern Oregon Conference.
And it's going to answer a question on a lot of people's minds in the Rogue Valley: Just how good is the Black Tornado?
North Medford has clobbered all four of its opponents, including a highly impressive 54-14 romp over previously unbeaten Eureka, Calif., last Friday.
The Tornado is averaging 49 points per game and yielding less than six. Its first-team defense has given up only three touchdowns. And quarterback Kevin Foreman has totaled 15 TDs — — eight passing and seven rushing — without turning the ball over.
North Medford has functioned as flawlessly as a Swiss watch thus far, but how will it respond when a monkey wrench is thrown into its components? Coach Rod Rumrey is confident his club will meet the challenge.
I've got a feeling we're going to step it up another notch, Rumrey says. We know it's very difficult to win up there. We know we're going into a hostile environment. We know most of the crowd is going to be rooting against us. But I think our players can handle it.
The defending conference champion Indians have reeled off four straight victories since a 21-14 season-opening loss to then-No. — Beaverton, and they're coming off their best performance, a 27-7 rout of Grants Pass.
It's a typical Roseburg team: Big, physical and well-versed in the triple-option veer offense.
In fact, veteran coach Thurman Bell has his biggest offensive line ever. Tackles Brian Frasnelly (6-foot-6, 285 pounds) and Willie Kingry (6-3, 295), guards Jeff Bond (6-3, 260) and Ryan Davis (6-2, 260) and center James Metcalf (6-1, 220) could put Burger King out of business on any given lunch hour.
Toss in tight end Joe Newton, a 6-6, 225-pound junior who is considered a major college prospect, and it's a formidable front indeed.
We actually haven't been running the veer that much this season, Bell says. We've mostly just run power football behind all those big kids.
The Indians racked up 375 yards rushing against Klamath Union two weeks ago and then gained 235 against a good Grants Pass defense last week.
The ground game has been so productive that it didn't miss a beat when starting tailback Conway Bixby went down with an ankle injury against Ashland on Sept. 8. Junior Rod Cope stepped in and has emerged as the leading rusher in the SOC with 438 yards, seven touchdowns and a 7.3 per-carry average.
Cope injured some ribs and managed only 42 yards on 16 carries against Grants Pass, but Bixby came back from a two-game absence and chalked up 168 yards on 22 carries and a pair of touchdowns.
They're a nice 1-2 punch, Bell says. Bixby's a little quicker and Cope's a little stronger, and they have their own styles. I'm not sure who will start Friday, but I'm sure they?ll both get their share of carries.
The Indians have gone with two quarterbacks, senior Scott Bone and junior Adam Hazel, and neither has been able to win the job outright. Bone is the better runner and Hazel the superior passer.
Each kid has gotten a couple of starts, but it's always the one off the bench who plays the best, Bell says. They're driving me nuts.
No team has been able to run the ball effectively against North Medford's first-team defense, which features speed and quickness and thrives on its ability to swarm to the ball. The Tornado returned three interceptions for touchdowns against Eureka, including a 102-yard dash by cornerback Mike Olson.
But Rumrey knows his defense will be tested Friday.
If we can hold our own up front then we should be OK, he says. But our kids have to keep their pad levels low and just stay after it.
The Tornado has been a juggernaut on offense and hopes to pressure the Indians with a balanced attack. Tailback Phil Ouellette ranks second in the SOC in rushing with 404 yards and three touchdowns and North Medford leads the conference in that department, averaging 273 yards on the ground.
But the secret to North's offensive success might well rest in Foreman's right arm. The senior QB has thrown only 35 passes in four games, but he's completed 23 of them for 461 yards and seven touchdowns.
Olson, a first team all-conference wide receiver last season, has been the main beneficiary with eight catches for 180 yards and five scores.
Olson can beat you all by himself but they've got so many kids who can run fast, it's scary, Bell says. They've got speed all over the place — — offense, defense and special teams.
We know we've got our hands full.
Bell, who serves as the Roseburg High athletic director, expects a crowd of about 7,000 to squeeze into Finlay Field in time for the 7:30 p.m. kickoff.