North to meet underrated Newberg
They are the Cinderella team of the Class 4A football playoffs.
Unranked, underrated, unappreciated.
They are the Newberg Tigers, and they find themselves in a quarterfinals matchup against No. 3-ranked North Medford Saturday afternoon at Eugene's Autzen Stadium.
Kickoff is at 12 noon.
North Medford expected to meet No. 5 Lake Oswego Saturday, but Newberg registered a stunning 24-13 upset over the Lakers last Friday to earn its shot at the Black Tornado.
We're playing our best football right now and that's largely because we've gotten healthy, says Newberg coach Eric Carlson, whose Tigers finished third in the Pacific-9 Conference and enters Saturday's contest with a 7-4 record. We've got some talent but we're not very deep.
The injury bug hit three of Newberg's top players: running back Shawn Negra, wide receiver Eric Hefferon and lineman Dave Book. Book missed four games with a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee, Negra missed one game and parts of two others with a variety of ailments and Hefferon missed one game and most of another with a badly sprained ankle.
But all three players have been healthy the past month, when the Tigers have put together a four-game win streak. They beat McMinnville (14-7) and Canby (28-8) to close the regular season, opened the playoffs with a 20-14 victory at Bend on a snow-covered field and then sent shockwaves through the state with their victory over Three Rivers League champion Lake Oswego last Friday.
Newberg lost to Lake Oswego 29-13 in a non-league game on Sept. 15.
I doubt too many people thought we'd beat Bend, Carlson says. It was 15 degrees with four inches of snow on the field. But our kids got into it. They took on the challenge and got the job done.
With Newberg leading 20-14, Bend mounted a long drive late in the game, only to fumble the ball into the Tigers? end zone with less than a minute to play.
We got a big break when we needed it but I also thought we outplayed them most of the way, Carlson says.
The Tigers then played their best game of the year against Lake Oswego, holding the Lakers? high-powered offense to just two touchdowns and limiting their outstanding tailback, Cole Clausen, to 88 yards on 22 carries. Clausen ran for 235 yards the previous week against Marshfield.
Newberg's two best players are Negra, the team's leading rusher with more than 900 yards, and slotback/defensive back Brandon Hazenberg.
Hazenberg, a sprinter in track and one of the nation's top high school javelin throwers, was the second-leading vote-getter for defensive player-of-the-year honors in the Pac-9 conference.
Hazenberg was also Newberg's starting quarterback the first seven games. He was then moved to slotback to more fully take advantage of his speed, with sophomore Dallas Buck inheriting the QB job.
He's a great athlete who makes plays, says Carlson, noting that Hazenberg booted a 42-yard field goal against Lake Oswego. We still line him up at quarterback once in a while.
Hazenberg, Negra and the rest of the Tigers have gotten the attention of North Medford coach Rod Rumrey. Rumrey is especially concerned about Newberg's stunt package on defense.
They show several different fronts and they move around a lot before the snap of the ball, Rumrey says. Our offensive line will have to be on its toes and it's possible we?ll be using quite a few audibles.
North Medford suffered a handful of injuries in its win over Glencoe. The most serious were a head injury to tight end/safety Travis Poulton and ankle sprains to linemen Dan Johnson and Scott Myers.
Poulton's injury wasn't as serious as first believed and all three players are expected to start Saturday.
We think he (Poulton) had a mild concussion but he got a CAT scan and it came back normal, Rumrey says. We think Travis will be able to go.
Poulton caught a touchdown pass against Glencoe and has been a standout all season on defense, where he's registered eight interceptions.
The Tornado's top performer on defense last Friday, however, was inside linebacker Tyler Graham, who had 14 unassisted tackles and 14 assisted stops.
I've never had a kid get 28 tackles in one game, Rumrey says. That's a tremendous performance.