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North aims to slow Rams

If North Medford is to have any chance of notching its first winning season under head coach Jeff Olson, the Black Tornado will have to overcome quite an obstacle Friday night in Central Catholic, No. 5 in the Class 6A power rankings.

Few teams have overcome adversity this season as well as Central Catholic, which has had to deal without the services of its starting quarterback and leading defensive forces but still managed to earn its third straight Mount Hood Conference championship.

The Rams (7-2) have won six straight entering Friday's game at Hillsboro Stadium and have only tasted defeat against two of the state's top teams in Jesuit and Lake Oswego.

Central Catholic's Brennan Scarlett (6-5, 250) is one of the most sought-after defensive ends in the state and could make his return tonight after suffering a broken collarbone in a Sept. 17 loss to Jesuit. He underwent surgery five days later and the team pinpointed the playoffs as a possible return date. Junior defensive end Alex Balducci (6-5, 265) is an equally promising recruit and could also make his return after missing time with a torn posterior cruciate ligament.

"They put a lot of pressure on you defensively," says Olson, in his fifth season at the North Medford helm. "They do their best to take away the inside run, which is one of our strengths."

Freshman Aidan Wilder has kept the Rams moving in the absence of junior starter Ben Cook, who was lost to a torn ACL in an injury-plagued season that saw him miss three other games with a dislocated elbow. Wilder passed for two TDs in a 35-14 win over Barlow two weeks ago, and ran for two scores and passed for two more in a 71-10 rout of Reynolds on Oct. 22.

Running back Demetri Posey has also helped carry the load in Cook's absence, along with receivers Greg Heath and Troy Gernhart.

For North Medford (5-5), running back Jesse Hornbrook's ability to gain consistent yardage against the Rams will be a key factor, as well as quarterback Zach Tanner's ability to keep the chains moving on the ground and through the air with the help of receivers Jeremy Scottow and Fiki Silafau.

"Anytime you go on the road, you want to withstand that first-quarter blitz," says Olson. "You can't win games in the first quarter but you certainly can lose games in the first quarter. We've got to find a way to go into the second half with a chance."

Hornbrook managed 159 yards rushing and one TD on 22 carries in last week's play-in victory over Clackamas to pace an offense that struggled to get out of its own way with a host of penalties. Gage Jacobson and Roger Keller helped pace the defensive effort, along with a pair of interceptions by Scottow.

Also last week, the Black Tornado lost senior Brian Reese to the same dislocated kneecap injury he suffered in Week 2. Reese, who was the team's returning QB, spent the past two weeks playing safety after making his return.

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