Some teams make grade, others are struggling
It's the middle of the high school football season, and time for the midseason report cards.
The envelopes, please.
With seven starters returning on both offense and defense, everyone knew the Indians were going to put another tough team on the field.
The big question mark was quarterback, and senior Adam Hazel has answered the call.
Bigger, stronger and far more comfortable in coach Thurman Bell's veer offense than when he first showed up at Roseburg in the summer of 2000 after transferring from LaSalle High, the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Hazel gets a little better each game.
In the past two weeks, he's completed 21-of-30 passes for 360 yards , five touchdowns and just one interception.
The Indians lead the Southern Oregon Conference in rushing at 242 yards per game. When opposing defenses load up to stop the run, Hazel makes them pay with play-action passes to 6-8, 245-pound tight end Joe Newton - who has three TD catches the past two games - or wide receivers Cory Whitman and Blair Brundige.
Hazel lacks the quickness Bell covets in an option quarterback, but the coach fills the need by bringing 5-9, 160-pound junior Asa Yraguen off the bench. Yraguen has three touchdown runs of 50 yards or more to his credit and is averaging a staggering 13.7 yards per carry.
The Indians, who are ranked second in the Class 4A state poll, also boast of a big offensive line anchored by 315-pound Willie Kingry, and their front seven on defense make them very difficult to run against.
Bell expects to get tested by No. 9-ranked South Medford Friday at Spiegelberg Stadium and the following week at home against No. 8 Grants Pass. But after beating two other highly-ranked foes (Sheldon and North Medford), the Indians appear destined for a serious run at a fifth state championship under Bell.
South Medford: A-
The Panthers are out of the gate at 5-0 - their best start in seven years - but their schedule has been rather soft, so it's difficult to determine how good they truly are.
The acid test comes Friday night when they face off against Roseburg.
It's clear, however, that South has its best team since 1992 when it went 9-3 and advanced to the state quarterfinals.
The Panthers look a little vulnerable on defense, but they possess the most explosive offense in the SOC and their top three skill players -quarterback Boomer Marshall, tailback Andres Reed and wide receiver Ryan Heil - are among the best in the state at their positions.
Marshall has thrown for 1,209 yards, 15 touchdowns and just two interceptions - decent numbers for an entire season. He's also completes 68 percent of his passes, many of which have gone downfield for big gains.
Reed leads the SOC in rushing with 729 yards and eight touchdowns, while Heil paces the SOC in receiving with 23 catches, 553 yards and 11 scores.
What makes Heil's numbers especially impressive is that he didn't play football as a sophomore or junior.
"What he's doing blows my mind," says South Medford coach Bill Singler, who was an all-state receiver at Medford High in 1970. "It makes you wonder what he'd be doing had he played football all along."
South Medford has two other superb receivers in Ryan Benson and Eric Fischer, giving the Panthers the top skill position players in the SOC.
But as good as the Panthers have been on offense, their defense has shown some cracks. Crater piled up 387 yards on them last Friday, and most of it came against the South Medford starters.
Grants Pass: A-
The Cavemen have been a bit of a surprise, not so much because they're unbeaten after five games but because their offense is more productive than anticipated.
Most of the credit goes to senior quarterback Tom Cohen, who is the No. 2-ranked passer in the SOC with 778 yards, 10 touchdowns and just one interception.
Remarkably poised for a first-year starter, Cohen is a nice complement to Tom Martin, a straight-ahead, tough-as-nails tailback who has 564 yards rushing and an SOC-leading 10 touchdowns.
GP's strength, however, is an airtight defense that is allowing just 195 yards and 7.2 points per game, tops in the SOC.
North Medford: B-
The Black Tornado seems to have its house in order following back-to-back losses to Roseburg and Grants Pass in which it failed to score a touchdown.
Head coach John Beck and offensive coordinator Brent Barry made three significant changes prior to last Friday's 45-0 victory over Klamath Union: they went with Travis Poulton at quarterback virtually the whole way, they moved Justin MacLauchlan from tailback to wide receiver and they inserted Manny Alegria at tailback.
Poulton isn't a prototypical quarterback for a team that's using four wide receivers, but his ability to roll out and scramble takes pressure off North Medford's undersized offensive line that has had to operate in recent weeks without all-conference guard Dan Johnson, who is sidelined with a sprained knee ligament.
MacLauchlan gives the Tornado another quality receiver it needed when Poulton left that position to play QB, while Alegria finally gets a chance to showcase his running ability after an injury-plagued career at North.
Alegria ran for 154 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Klamath Union.
North Medford's defense, led by inside linebacker Alan Borelli, has been solid all along.
The Tornado should have little trouble beating Ashland, Crater and Eagle Point over the next three weeks before meeting South Medford in a season finale that is bound to have significant playoff implications.
It's clear by now that Ashland simply doesn't have the talent that Grizzly fans have grown accustomed to.
The Grizzlies are particularly feeble up front, and that has allowed four of their five opponents to amass more than 300 yards rushing.
To make matters worse, starting quarterback Cameron Voget was suspended the past two games for disciplinary reasons - he returns this Friday against North Medford - and starting wide receiver Ryan Decker has been battling injuries.
Barring a miracle, the Grizzlies will see their string of 16 straight playoff appearances come to an end.
Klamath Union: C-
The Pelicans are better than they've been in several years, thanks mostly to a talented group of skill position players led by tailback Brad Mejia.
But the Pels have virtually no depth and coach Wayne Amos had to scrap his JV team because of a lack of players.
Eagle Point: C-
Coach Mike Johnston was hopeful the Eagles could muster a winning season for the first time since 1997, but at 2-3 and with games remaining against North Medford and Grants Pass, the odds aren't good.
Quarterback Robert Slayton got off to a fine start this season, completing 17-of-28 passes for 313 yards, four touchdowns and one interception in EP's opening two games. Since then he's gone 19-of-54 for 184 yards, no touchdowns and five interceptions.
The winless Comets played inspired football the past two weeks in losses to Roseburg and South Medford, but their defense was too porous to give the team a chance at pulling off a major upset.
Quarterback D.J. Beatty, who was thrown into the fire last season when P.J. Price and Derek Petersen were injured, showed flashes of brilliance in last Friday's loss to South Medford when he threw for a career-high 259 yards and two touchdowns.
The Comets also have a good running back in Dan Casey, the SOC's fourth-leading rusher with 460 yards, and one of the best tight ends in the SOC in Andrew Norum.
But unless they can learn how to tackle, their losing ways will continue.
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