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Black Tornado brace for surging Axemen

The Southwest Conference season hasn't been particularly good for North Medford or South Eugene since its formation in 2006.

The Axemen have lost 11 straight SWC football games dating back to 2006, while the Black Tornado's lone conference wins the past two seasons have come at the expense of South Eugene.

In each case, the shoe easily could be on the other foot in a series that has essentially been settled by a touchdown each time.

"They've always been pretty good games when we get together," says South Eugene head coach Travis Johnson. "They've always been physical and usually games that go all four quarters."

Johnson expects no different this time around when his team ventures to Spiegelberg Stadium for Friday's 7 p.m. contest, only this time the Axemen have a little momentum behind their trek south. After going 0-9 a year ago, South Eugene enters the SWC opener with a 4-0 record and arguably the best collection of overall talent it's had in quite some time.

"They scare the daylights out of me with their skill players and because of the attitude change there," says North Medford coach Jeff Olson, whose team is 3-1. "They've learned how to win, and they're not just winning, they're running teams out of the stadium."

Setting aside a 20-13 win over Gresham that was called due to a first-half power outage, the Axemen have averaged just over 41 points per game and nearly 434 yards of total offense.

"Each week we've gotten better and gotten more confident," says Johnson. "I think the kids are starting to realize they can be a very good football team."

The Axemen led Franklin 54-0 before allowing 30 fourth-quarter points, then came back to throttle a good Thurston team 49-14. Last week, South Eugene was dominant in a 21-3 win over Willamette.

"They're loaded on the offensive side of the ball and they're playing with confidence," adds Olson. "The only thing that stopped them last week was themselves. I think they were penalized 15 times."

South Eugene boasts three running backs who have eclipsed 200 yards thus far in Keenan Jordan (28 carries for 222), Richard Ramsey (20 for 214) and Aaron Moville (38 for 202). Quarterback Cameron Ofner has added 128 yards and four scores on the ground on 29 carries, and also is rated second among SWC QBs after completing 29 of 44 passes for 462 yards and seven scores.

"When you can run the ball, you can do anything," says Johnson. "It makes passing easier because it puts pressure on so many different areas."

South Eugene also boasts two of the best athletes in the SWC in receiver/defensive back Spencer Coleman and transfer Gabe King, who played his first game for the Axemen last week and is rated the No. 29 overall prospect by Rivals.com.

Coleman, this season's likely preseason pick as SWC player of the year in boys basketball, stands 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds and leads the Axemen with 14 catches for 202 yards and five TDs.

King is also 6-5 but certainly more sturdy at 250 pounds. One of the most heavily recruited defensive ends in the country, King comes from North Carolina, where he was ruled ineligible after questions regarding his residency. He began attending South Eugene on Sept. 21, marking his third school in six months, and was cleared to play last week by the OSAA and the SWC's hardship committee.

"I think Willamette ran the ball to his side once and he made the tackle," says Johnson of King's debut. "They double- and triple-teamed him and ran away from him, so that's a huge impact right there. He's got great speed, he's just got to get in shape. He's a really motivated kid, though, so each week I think you're going to see more and more out of him."

That can't exactly be good news for the Black Tornado, which has struggled to give its running backs any room to run thus far. North is averaging just under 85 yards rushing per game — at about 3 yards per carry — and is coming off a 14-13 loss to Crater in which the Tornado managed only 33 yards on 22 carries.

"It's still a mental approach and a want-to to get off the ball and make things happen," says Olson of his team's inability to run. "If we want a chance to move on this year, we've got to be able to run the football."

On the flip side, North has been able to throw the ball fairly effectively with quarterback Brian Reese and leading receivers Cory Haggans, Fiki Silafau and Jeremy Scottow. Reese has completed 67 of 105 passes for 883 yards with six TDs and five interceptions, while Haggans leads the SWC with 431 yards on 24 receptions.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com