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Panthers, Tornado at a crossroad

Winner of Friday's Black and Blue Game can leave its troubles behind

With just three victories between them halfway through the season, the North and South Medford high school football teams head into Friday night's 20th annual Black and Blue game hoping to turn the corner and reestablish themselves as state playoff contenders.

North Medford has advanced to the postseason the past seven years, South Medford the past three, and they've combined to win four of the past five Southern Oregon Conference titles. But neither team has been its old, commanding self in 2005.

South Medford, besieged by injuries, lost its first three games before squeaking out a 21-14 overtime victory over Crater on Sept. 23. (The Panthers had a bye last Friday).

North Medford, tormented by inconsistency, broke its own three-game losing streak last Friday with a 41-14 win over the Comets.

Friday's Black and Blue battle at Spiegelberg Stadium could serve as a springboard to success for the winner and a continuation of struggles for the loser. But don't bet your paycheck on which team will win, because this game is dead-even on paper.

— Neither team is ranked or undefeated, but it's definitely a pivotal game, nods South Medford coach Bill Singler. Both teams are trying to get on track.

The Panthers (1-3 overall, 1-0 SOC) were a team in disarray through losses to Tigard and West Linn to start the season, then nearly stunned fifth-ranked Lake Oswego on the road in Week 3. They lost that game 15-14 when Lake Oswego scored in the final seconds, but it nevertheless gave them confidence. A week later, they made the big plays at crunch time and beat Crater in overtime to begin SOC play.

Junior quarterback/free safety standout Kyle Singler, who missed the first three games with torn knee cartilage, returned against Crater on defense but didn't take a snap at quarterback. He and senior Tommy George, who has led the club thus far and made a huge pass completion against Crater that set up the winning touchdown, will likely split time Friday.

Kyle will play some quarterback, says coach Singler of his nephew. We'll make a decision late in the week on who will start.

Kyle Singler is now suffering from a sore back and still doesn't have quite the spring in his step that he had last season when he was a first-team all-conference tight end and defensive back, coach Singler says.

South Medford continues to have other injury woes. Senior tailback/linebacker Ryan Odell, who missed the first two games with torn cartilage in his left knee and then suffered a sprained medical collateral ligament in his right knee against Lake Oswego, is now sidelined indefinitely.

His knee hasn't responded ' he feels like he's walking on egg shells, says Singler. He practiced a little bit Monday but he just couldn't go.

To make matters worse, starting fullback Ken Licea, who scored two touchdowns against Crater, is sidelined two games for disciplinary reasons and starting wide receiver Michael Harthun has been fighting a sinus infection for 2&

189; weeks that has affected his play.

We've been a little snakebitten, but a win over North would cure a lot of our ills, Bill Singler says. And we've still got playmakers.

North Medford (2-3, 1-1 SOC) has had its own set of problems and hit rock bottom on Sept. 23 when it lost 46-42 to Ashland. The setback marked the Tornado's third in a row for the first time in a decade, but North jumped off the mat and beat Crater by four touchdowns last Friday.

Was that a sign of things to come, or an anomaly?

Starting league play with a loss kind of put our backs to the wall, and the kids responded, says North Medford coach Rod Rumrey. We finally put a complete game together ' offensively, defensively and with special teams.

That was a huge game for us, but this one is just as crucial.

Offensively, the Tornado is led by senior tailback Ryan Folsom, the SOC's leading scorer (70 points) and second-leading rusher (559 yards) who torched Crater for six touchdowns.

But the key weapon for North Medford might be quarterback Darren Bruhns, an athletic junior who can hurt an opponent with his throwing arm or his legs. Bruhns, 6-foot-1 and 188 pounds, was up and down the first three games, but he completed 12 of his first 13 passes for 156 yards and one touchdown against Crater.

In a 41-23 season-opening win over Lakeridge, Bruhns ran for 112 yards and a touchdown.

We know North will want to run the ball and we're going to have to bring a heck of a lot of energy and intensity to match theirs, Bill Singler says. But Bruhns is the X-factor. If he throws it well then they become more difficult to defend. And when he runs the option or scrambles he has the speed to give you fits.

North Medford's concern defensively is a South Medford passing game that averages 210 yards ' best in the SOC ' and the added punch that Kyle Singler could bring to the offense.

Singler's a playmaker wherever he lines up, says Rumrey.

With South Medford ranking last in the SOC in total defense (343.5) and North Medford last in scoring defense (30.2), Friday's game could turn into a shootout.

Regardless of the teams' records, that would make for an entertaining matchup.

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail Panthers, Tornado at a crossroad"dhunt@mailtribune.com.