North down but not out
A tumultuous week for the North Medford football program ended with a result that really didn't take anyone by surprise Friday night at Spiegelberg Stadium, but there was much more to the Southwest Conference affair than simple scoreboard totals.
For the Black Tornado, which fell 49-0 to seventh-ranked Roseburg, the night was more about showing pride and team unity as it gathered for its first game since the surprising resignation two days prior by first-year head coach Nate Becksted.
"It was devastating to a lot of kids ... a big shocker," North senior Zach Tanner said of Becksted's decision with two regular season games to go. "We're dealt a hand right now and you've just got to play it. There's not a whole lot you can do, you've just got to go and play. It's how the cookie crumbles I guess."
Tanner said this week's "been a wreck" in terms of game preparation for Roseburg, but all the turmoil helped remind him of his team's character.
"No matter what happens, we're not a broken family as a team," added Tanner. "Our team leader might be gone but we've been through a lot in these past four years as seniors. As a team, we stick together until the end; we're not going to quit."
That spirit and camaraderie were event throughout the game, but spirit isn't enough to win football games in the rigorous SWC.
The Indians were at their overwhelming best during a 21-point second quarter that resulted in a 28-0 lead at intermission on homecoming and senior night for the Black Tornado.
Roseburg (6-2, 4-2 SWC) rushed for five touchdowns and 392 yards on 52 carries, attempting only two passes in the second half — both on the first series — in an effort to be respectful to a struggling Tornado team that fell to 1-7 overall and 1-5 in league.
"Guys competed, it's been the same thing all year," said North Medford interim head coach Tom Powell. "We've just gotta get better fundamentally."
"I think we hit well tonight, we played physical and played with a lot of emotion and were able to let a lot of things go," added Powell. "It's been a hard year. These kids have been through a lot, three head coach changes in less than 12 months and all the offseason stuff, and they've just bought into everything and worked hard. We've just got to get better."
Roseburg marched 70 yards on its opening series and took a 7-0 lead on a 4-yard run by Javier Mandera, but that was all the scoring in a first quarter that saw the Black Tornado sideline in full-throated support of one another.
North Medford switched things up on offense, putting starting quarterback Tanner in the backfield and giving sophomore backup Mark Winans his first varsity start. The move was something Tanner decided to try and gained full support from his teammates and the coaches.
"I wanted to maybe try to spark something in the team and ignite something with a different look," said Tanner. "We just need to get more work on it. I just thought it might slow down the game more because obviously the spread look wasn't working at all. We'll see what happens with the rest of the season and what my position goes like, but I just figured I'd try something else and see what I could do there."
Tanner finished with 31 yards on 12 carries against Roseburg's stout defense, gaining 11 yards on one promising carry but typically settling for 1- or 2-yard gains because of little room to run.
In all, North Medford was limited to four first downs — all in the first half — and 57 yards of total offense. Winans completed 3 of 10 passes for 13 yards, with his one interception coming on the Tornado's final drive after a kick return by Eugene Ellis put the ball on the Roseburg 15 with 11.2 seconds to play.
"It can only get better," said Winans, echoing the hopes throughout the North program. "It can't really get worse than this. I'm just looking forward to the future."
With Roseburg throwing wrinkles at Winans that he hadn't seen on film or encountered before, the young quarterback was on his heels for much of the game but vowed afterward he's more energized than ever to play the position.
"I'm just kinda looking toward next week and we'll see what we can do because I feel like we can find some holes in the defense and get it done," he said.
Winans said he was completely surprised by Becksted's decision to step away from the program, but equally proud of how his teammates handled the turmoil and transition to the new direction.
"I'm really impressed with how we all bonded together," said Winans. "We've kinda been going through adversity this whole year and I think we did a really good job and responded to it well. It was good to come out and see that we could play and that everything just didn't fall apart. That's on the bright side of what we can look forward to next week."
Roseburg used an 11-yard touchdown run by Arie Yraguen and consecutive 10-yard scores by Selmar Hutchins — one via a blocked punt return and the other on an untouched scamper — to break the game open in the second quarter.
Roseburg's defense added a score in the third quarter when Hector Mandera pried the ball away from Brody Zoller and raced 45 yards to pay dirt. Jake Heverly's 6-yard run made it 42-0 in the third, and Chandler Haskett broke through for a 33-yard TD run with 21.3 seconds to go as Roseburg was trying to run out the clock.
Roseburg head coach Thurman Bell was apologetic in his post-game meeting with Powell regarding the final score. Powell, a former Southern Oregon University assistant, was unconcerned because he and the Black Tornado had been through stranger circumstances this week.
"It's just been a blur," the affable coach said of the last few days. "I found out Wednesday about 10 o'clock in the morning that they were going to make a change and asked if I'd take over. I had about a half hour to get hold of every assistant coach and, gosh, we're all in it. We wanted to hang in there for the kids because we've got a great bunch. We asked them to compete and just said, 'Football's for fun. Forget everything and just go out and support each other and play the game.'"
The effort certainly didn't go unnoticed by North Medford Athletic Director Tim Sam.
"I'm actually tonight excited about what I saw in the kids' eyes and on the field," said Sam. "I thought the effort was good. We don't like getting beat and we don't like losing but there are more important things than that. I think tonight was a real good step towards a healing process."
"We are going to move forward and we're going to move forward in a positive way, No. 1 for our kids, and for our community," he added.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry