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North, South aim to get back on track

When something's called the Black and Blue Bowl, it's not like you should expect a thing of beauty.

Such a name lends itself more to tooth-and-nail battles, ones that require every ounce of effort you can muster in contests that expect to go down to the final few minutes.

And while there has been a few flashy matchups in the history of North Medford and South Medford squaring off on the football field, the 25th edition of the cross-town rivalry doesn't stand to be one of them.

On Friday night at Spiegelberg Stadium, grit will overshadow glamour as each team looks for redemption following lackluster outings last week. North Medford (1-1) was walloped 41-10 by Class 5A Mountain View, while South Medford (1-1) committed six turnovers in a 31-14 loss at Beaverton.

"You'd like to think you're playing at a high level when you play North but we're not there yet, and neither are they," says South Medford head coach Bill Singler. "This game is going to be about heart and courage and which team is ready to go the distance."

"That's the way this game is," adds Singler. "I don't care who's better than who, and I don't think anybody's better than anybody in this game, I think both teams at this point really are just hungry to win a game against your cross-town rivals. All bets are off. You just have to go play the game."

South Medford has won the past three Black and Blue Bowls, trimming its deficit in the series with North to 14-10. The Panthers, however, have never won four straight in the series, and the Black Tornado isn't ready to let that occur now — especially given that it's the Southwest Conference opener for both teams.

"It's still going to be a long season, regardless, because this is the first of seven (SWC games) we're going to have," says North Medford head coach Jeff Olson, "but this is a cross-town rivalry and they've gotten us three straight times. The last couple have been some very good games that went down to the final minutes, but coming close isn't what it's all about."

Each team enters Friday's affair with a high level of uncertainty.

Last week's third-quarter injury to senior quarterback Brian Reese thrust the spotlight on Cory Pine, and the senior backup will make his first varsity start on Friday. Reese, one of only two returning QBs in the SWC, had his right knee drained Tuesday and went through an MRI on Wednesday. His outlook for the remainder of the season is still in question, but Reese is definitely out for this week.

"Under the circumstances, I thought Cory Pine came in and played very well the other night," says Olson. "When he came in, Mountain View (was up 27-3) and was going to pin their ears back and go get him and Cory didn't back down. He's a tough kid."

Pine completed 4 of 8 passes for 21 yards and also scored on a 1-yard dive. He could also gain support from junior Zach Tanner, who was the junior varsity quarterback last season but has spent the offseason working at safety and running back. Tanner did complete a 44-yard TD pass in North's season-opening win over Clackamas.

Another concern for the Black Tornado was a defensive effort that allowed Mountain View to rack up 287 yards on the ground and 429 overall. The Cougars' execution and some missed tackles by North opened the door to such a display, but Olson hopes the return of linebacker Gage Jacobson and a re-focused effort will get the Tornado back on track.

"We challenged the kids that when people are looking at us on film, what are they thinking?" says Olson. "People are going to come in feeling pretty good about themselves when they're getting ready to play us right now. This is what you're up against. You dug a hole, now you've got to get out of it."

Across town, South Medford knows a thing or two about digging holes for themselves as well. The Panthers were intercepted on their first two drives against Beaverton and fumbled on the next drive, and never could get out of their doldrums. Even though the game was tied 7-all at halftime, the feeling of confidence simply wasn't there.

"We had shot ourselves in the foot and hadn't played well so I think that deflated our football team enough to where it gave the opponent confidence," says Singler. "(Beaverton) played much better once they saw that the air kind of let out of our sails a little bit."

"You want to play well each and every game, but sometimes you need a little gut check and a little slap in the face and I think we got that," says the coach. "I think it was a wake-up call for us, and for me as a coach, too. You've got to press each and every game and each opponent should have the respect they deserve."

Doing a better job of taking care of the ball will be a priority Friday. Junior quarterback Jack Singler was tagged with five interceptions — his first of the season — and will need to put all that behind him if he's going to have success against a capable Tornado defense. Singler has completed 21 of 48 passes for 276 yards and two TDs.

"Jack needs to just understand that we threw the interceptions, let's learn from it," says coach Singler. "Every quarterback has done it from John Elway to Brett Favre to whoever. It's tough, but you've got to learn from it."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com