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Black Tornado seeks quick turnaround

The great thing about playing sports is that there's usually another opportunity right around the corner.

That will be the circumstance surrounding tonight's matchup between North Medford and South Eugene at Spiegelberg Stadium, with each team in search of their first Southwest Conference triumph after a rough couple weeks.

In the case of South Eugene, the Axemen had their comeback attempt fall short in their season opener and suffered a 25-19 setback against Sprague. The past two weeks have seen South Eugene take on two of the best teams in the state in West Salem and Sheldon to no avail in 41-0 and 51-7 losses, respectively.

For North Medford (1-2, 0-1 SWC), a season-opening road win over Clackamas has been followed by disappointing home losses to Mountain View and South Medford.

To say that each team is chomping at the bit for a victory would be an understatement.

"We have not played well at home and we've got to get back in the hunt so we're preparing for this like it's for a playoff spot," said North Medford head coach Jeff Olson. "We have to."

In the most notable SWC game tonight, Roseburg head coach Thurman Bell will look to become the third Oregon football coach to reach 300 wins when the Indians (3-0, 1-0 SWC) play host to Thurston (2-1, 0-1).

Bell has posted a 299-125-1 record thus far in his 40th season at Roseburg, and ranks third on the all-time wins list behind Dewey Sullivan (352-84-2 at Dayton) and Kent Wigle (307-99-2 at South Umpqua and Marshfield).

In other SWC action, South Medford (2-1, 1-0) is at Crater (2-1, 0-1) and Grants Pass (0-3, 0-1) at Sheldon (3-0, 1-0).

The Black Tornado has won the last three games against South Eugene, but all have essentially been by a touchdown or less. Last year, North Medford secured a 10-7 win at Spiegelberg.

"They're certainly a very capable team and have played a very difficult schedule to date," Olson said of the Axemen. "They like to keep the pace of the game at a high pace and minimize the substitutions you can make defensively, as well as try to wear you out."

South Eugene's fortunes rise and fall with senior Taylor VanderKley, who is in his first season as quarterback on the varsity team but has been one of the team's top athletes for the past few years. VanderKley led his team from its own 28-yard line down to the Sprague 35 with 6.7 seconds left before his final pass fell incomplete.

The Axemen also managed a 7-7 tie early in the second quarter against Sheldon before the defending 6A champions finally broke away. In the past two games, however, South Eugene has been held to negative yardage on the ground.

Coming off a lackluster effort against Mountain View, North Medford managed a solid effort into the third quarter against South Medford last week before ultimately getting worn down by the Panthers' relentless rushing attack.

"In spite of how the game finished last week, I was pleased with our first 21/2 quarters of play," said Olson, "but obviously a game is more than 30 minutes and we've got to learn to play for 48 minutes. The mental mistakes that occurred in that second half just can't happen."

Senior Cory Pine did a good job of managing the North offense in his first varsity start, finishing with 118 yards on 12-for-23 passing. He received stellar support from senior receiver Jeremy Scottow, who caught seven passes for 66 yards and turned four runs into 53 yards.

Pine will get the starting nod again, with Zach Tanner serving as his backup, as returning starter Brian Reese remains sidelined. An MRI this week revealed that Reese did not suffer any ligament damage to his knee after being injured against Mountain View, but he does have an unstable kneecap that will require surgery at some point.

"As much as we'd like to have (Reese) to be going he can't, so we've just got to move ahead," said Olson. "Certainly an offense is going to feed off its quarterback and Cory is very level-headed and maintains his composure very well."

The Black Tornado will have to improve on its average of 194 yards of total offense in order to deny the Axemen, as well as penalty woes that have hindered North's progress in recent weeks.

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