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North, Crater to take it to field

North Medford is 4-0 and ranked No. — in the Class 4A state poll.

Crater is 0-3.

The two high school football teams meet at 7 p.m. Friday at Spiegelberg Stadium.

It's a game that normally wouldn't be drawing much attention, except for one conspicuous footnote: Crater coach John Beck left North Medford last March and took most of the Black Tornado assistant coaches with him to Central Point.

At the time, many of the North Medford players felt betrayed and said they would circle Friday's game on their calendars.

— But now that the day of reckoning is near, calls for retribution and retaliation are being replaced by statements such as, We just want to go out and win this game.

Our guys were really upset when this all came about, but so much has happened since then, says North Medford senior fullback/linebacker Ryan Weisz. Back then, we were worried about who was going to be our next coach and what was going to happen to our team.

But everything has worked out great.

Rod Rumrey, who coached North Medford from 1988-2000 before stepping aside for health reasons and burnout, returned to his old post and has the Tornado off to a typically strong start.

Weisz admits the Tornado players would be lying if they said this was just another game, adding that emotions will be running high on both sides.

But at some point we've got to let it go, Weisz says.

There's no doubt in Beck's mind that Rumrey, whom he coached under for three seasons before becoming North Medford's head coach in 2001, will have the Tornado breathing fire when the game unfolds at 7 p.m.

Rod's one of the best motivators in the state, and he'll have them going wild, Beck says. He can push kids' buttons and get them to do things they didn't think they could do.

I'm sure they'll have the motivational edge.

It's the edge in talent, however, that figures to separate the teams on the scoreboard more than anything.

North Medford boasts senior quarterback Ben Running, who leads the SOC in passing yards with 969, along with 10 touchdowns; senior tailback Josh Casebere, who paces the SOC in rushing with 589 yards and six TDs; senior wide receiver Kyle Williamson, who has 19 catches for 376 yards and five scores; and Weisz, who missed a game and a half with a concussion but still ranks 10th in the SOC in rushing (110 yards, two TDs) and ninth in receiving (11 catches, 127 yards, — TD).

North Medford also hopes to get a breakout performance Friday from senior receiver Drew Herrera, who has been hampered the past few weeks with a knee injury.

Coupled with one of the state's premier offensive lines and a defense that has stabilized after a rough start, North Medford has emerged as a state power.

The Tornado took over the No. — spot in the polls following a 25-19 win over then top-ranked Clackamas on Sept. 17 and followed with a 49-14 rout of Ashland last Friday in moving to 4-0.

Crater, meanwhile, had hoped to win a couple of non-conference games to start the season. Beck has been able to mold a dogged defense that is allowing an SOC-stingiest 209 yards per game, but the Comets' offense has very little and has been the culprit in all three losses.

In last Friday's 50-14 setback to South Medford, the Panthers ran back two interceptions for touchdowns and converted two fumble recoveries into 14 more points against the Comets.

Junior quarterback Colin Hodges has taken most of the snaps for the Comets, but Beck promised to give junior Brian Theis and sophomore Cory Staniforth opportunities to win the job in practice this week.

It's open competition for the quarterback position, he says.

Despite the setbacks, Beck says his players haven't lost hope in their quest to turn around a program that has suffered through nine straight losing seasons.

I think they can see the big picture, he says. They understand that if we can limit the turnovers and the dropped passes and just execute better offensively, then we'll have a chance to beat even the better teams on our schedule.

The Comets likely will need to play a near-perfect game to knock off what promises to be an energized Black Tornado on Friday.

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail