North faces rematch in 6A play-in
The way North Medford football coach Jeff Olson sees it, he's just happy the Black Tornado has a second chance at securing a spot in the 32-team Class 6A state playoff bracket.
Truth be told, anyone playing football tonight at the 6A level wouldn't have had this opportunity one year ago. But now with the Oregon School Activities Association's new all-inclusive play-in process, all past woes can be swept under the rug and the focus can turn to what could be.
"I just look at it as a positive in that we're still playing," says Olson. "At this stage of the season, I'm just grateful that we still have a chance."
There are 11 play-in games to determine the final spots in the 6A bracket, and North Medford's opponent isn't new to Olson's crew.
The Black Tornado (4-5) will play host to Clackamas (0-9) at 7 tonight at Spiegelberg Stadium in a rematch of the season opener for both teams, which was won by North, 27-14.
"It makes me nervous that we played Clackamas before and beat them at their place," says Olson. "Now you throw the records out, and I'm sure they're anxious to have a second chance at us. I'm sure they're talking about this being a revenge game."
The remaining teams in the Southwest Conference face road play-in games tonight, with Crater (2-7) at Southridge (3-6), Grants Pass (2-7) at Grant (4-4) and South Eugene (1-8) at Barlow (6-3).
In other games featuring local teams, Ashland plays host to South Albany and Eagle Point is at Marist in the second round of 5A play-ins, while 4A Phoenix is at Douglas and Hidden Valley at Siuslaw.
For Clackamas, tonight offers an opportunity to erase what has been a difficult season to this point. The Three Rivers League team was outscored by an average of 26-11. Four of its losses, however, were by a touchdown or less.
"People look at their record and say this should be a win," says Olson, "but look at the conference they're in and the fact that they've really played well against some quality teams. At some point a losing streak or winning streak, unless you're Sheldon, I guess, is going to end. I certainly don't want it to happen this week."
The Cavaliers utilize a run-first approach set in motion by running back Oliver Farnes, who rushed 25 times for 114 yards and one score in the last meeting between the teams. Farnes has continued such a pace throughout the season and stands to be a key factor tonight.
North Medford was previously able to catch Clackamas off guard with the fly sweep and a couple key special teams plays, but the Tornado offense is vastly different than it was back then. Tailback Jesse Hornbrook is one of only two runners in the SWC to eclipse 1,000 yards — going for 1,074 yards on 169 carries — and Zach Tanner has taken over for quarterback Brian Reese, who was injured in Week 2 and returned to action as a safety and receiver last week.
Tanner enjoyed one of his best outings in one of the Tornado's worst performances last week against Thurston, when five lost fumbles out of seven overall led to a 41-14 loss. Regardless, the junior completed 10 of 22 passes for 117 yards and one TD and ran nine times for 38 yards and another score.
"Just to see the growth in Zach now that he knows he's become the starter, his whole demeanor has changed," says Olson. "He's much more focused as a quarterback and has had some success throwing the ball and is gaining confidence. He's coming into his own."
"He brings that dimension to us that's tough to defend," adds the coach. "It's tough when you've got to defend downfield and also have to defend a quarterback that's capable of running the ball if you also decide to put the ball in his hands."
Crater has its own dual-threat signal caller in senior Tyler Turituri, and the Comets are thrilled to have him back in the fold after missing the better part of Crater's final two games due to a nagging hip flexor. Turituri, who has been dealing with the injury for about six weeks, returned to practice this week and should be good to go against Southridge.
"It's better, it's not healed or anything, but it's a lot better than it was," says Crater coach John Beck. "That week off seemed to help a little bit and we're hoping that can be difference-maker."
Despite the missed time, Turituri finished the regular season ranked seventh in rushing with 544 yards on 19 carries to go with 608 yards on 47-for-115 passing.
Quarterback Derek Keller has also been the key for Southridge, running for two TDs and passing for another in a 21-20 win over Sunset.
The Comets have turned up the intensity this week in practice to gear up for the Skyhawks, who lost a tiebreaker to Westview for the Metro League's third and final automatic berth to state with last Friday's 41-14 loss.
Crater running back Derek Cartwright and receiver Corey Wynant have fared well as complements to Turituri, while the Comet defense finished in the middle of the conference pack with an average of 316 yards allowed per game.
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