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Renegades continue push in PFL postseason

The Southern Oregon Renegades have slept easy the last two weeks.

A familiar bed sure does beat life on the road, they've found.

Bus-bound the majority of their time in the minor league football playoffs the past three seasons, the Renegades have enjoyed the comforts of home so far this postseason and hope to continue that tonight — and maybe beyond.

Southern Oregon (10-2) hosts the Springfield Buzzards (5-5) in a second-round Pacific Football League playoff game tonight at 6 at Spiegelberg Stadium. The winner claims the South Division title and advances to the PFL championship game next Saturday.

Cost is $8 for general admission tickets, $5 for seniors (age 55-up) and kids ages 12-under get in free. Fans are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items for donation to ACCESS.

The Renegades held off the Portland Raiders, 15-12, last Saturday at Spiegelberg in a first-round contest to set up tonight's showdown.

"It helps to be at home in front of family," says Southern Oregon running back Alvin Thornton. "Normally what would happen (in past playoff appearances) is we'd go on some 17-hour bus trip to Canada and the bus would break down. It'd be a long trip."

The winner of tonight's game advances to play the North Division champ — either the Kitsap County Bears or South King County Colts. A Southern Oregon win tonight and a victory by 7-3 South King County would bring the PFL title game to Spiegelberg next Saturday.

"We can't overlook (Springfield)," says Renegades quarterback Nate Ellis. "We have a good game plan and we aren't going to take them lightly like Portland did."

Ellis, a dangerous runner and ever-improving passer, is in charge of Southern Oregon's spread offense.

The former North Valley High standout, who had a combined 238 yards of offense in last Saturday's victory, almost didn't come back for his fourth season with the Renegades, citing an urge to play football at the collegiate level.

"We've created a little family here," says Ellis, who missed the team's first four games. "I didn't really want to come out, but the relationships with these guys pulled me back in."

After graduating from North Valley in 2007, Ellis left football behind until he got a call from Renegades player/co-owner Rockne DeMello, who is now an assistant coach.

"I had a minor knee injury my senior year so I didn't get a lot of looks (from colleges)," says Ellis. "I talked to Portland State and Western (Oregon) but didn't follow through.

"I wasn't even thinking about football until Rock hit me up. I started loving it and studying it and just really wanted to play."

Ellis, now 22, hopes to be on campus somewhere when camps open on Aug. 10.

"College of the Siskiyous has shown interest," says Ellis, "and Southern Oregon University is a possibility. They run the spread now and that would be perfect."

For now, Ellis is focused on getting the Renegades past a dangerous Springfield squad, which pulled off a big upset of the undefeated and No. 1-seeded Portland Monarchs last Saturday.

"They're a different team than when we played them the first time," says former player and first-year Southern Oregon head coach Garret Butler. "They've made quite a few personnel changes. They moved their wide receiver (Toby Hay) to quarterback because he's a bit more mobile."

"They are a better team since we played them (a 20-6 win)," Butler adds. "But so are we."

The Renegades will look to shut down the Buzzards' rushing attack — about 80 percent of their offense comes on the ground — with their sturdy defensive unit, which has given up a PFL-best 91 points over 12 games.

The massive defensive line has been a key to holding the opposing offenses in check.

"Our defense is the best in the league," says Thornton. "I would say the D-line is the strongest part. Without them getting pressure and pushing through we wouldn't get a lot of those interceptions and turnovers.

"They're very strong and very big."

Thornton and Ellis are two of the dangerous pieces on the offensive side, which also features first-team PFL South Division performers Antoine Williams (tight end) and Josh Smith (offensive line).

This season and the run toward a PFL championship has been dedicated to former Renegades player Kris Butler, who died last August in a car accident.

Butler, a former Eagle Point High standout, was 21.

"This season I think we have more inspiration to win playing in memory of Kris," says DeMello.

"I would say 100 percent we are playing for Kris," adds Thornton. "A lot of people came back that probably wouldn't be involved if not for him."

Garret Butler, who is no relation to Kris Butler, would like nothing more than to bring a championship to Medford.

"If we end up hosting a championship here," says Butler, "that would be an amazing thing for Medford. It would be something very special and a huge accomplishment."

Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 541-776-4483, or email kgoff@mailtribune.com

Ellis looks for a reciever during practice Thursday night at US Cellular Fields. Andy Atkinson Photo