Tornado not about to take Reynolds lightly
If it ain't broke then don't try to fix it, at least that's been the thought this week in the North Medford football camp as the Black Tornado prepares for its first state playoff game since 2010.
North Medford entered this season with high hopes but tempered that with the knowledge that you have to learn to crawl before you can walk. So it's been a game-by-game process for the Black Tornado, and one that has resulted in the program's first conference title since 2005 even though the real hope at the season's start was merely to snap a drought of seven straight losing seasons.
However fifth-ranked North Medford (8-1) has gotten to this point, head coach Mike Mitchell isn't looking for any of that to change now that his team opens the Class 6A football state playoffs against Reynolds (4-5) on Friday.
"They're starting to think they maybe can be a Cinderella team here," said Mitchell, "but we're just going to line up the ducks and take them one at a time and see what happens. We know we're young but we've had the right attitude each game to go out and do it and this isn't going to be any different than that."
Given the Raiders' aptitude on offense, Mitchell said his team has plenty to keep it occupied these days anyway. Reynolds averaged 37 points per game this year, but won three of its final four games to earn the No. 3 spot in the Mt. Hood Conference behind an average of 49 points during that span.
"Reynolds is a team that just started out slow but has gotten better and better and I'm impressed," said Mitchell. "I think they're a good football team and we're going to have to do a good job defensively and score some points to keep in this one."
Leading the way for the Raiders is third-year starting quarterback Josh Schleining, who operates out of a spread offense and has completed 148 of 241 passes for 2,304 yards (ranking eighth in the state) with 23 touchdowns and six interceptions. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Schleining has also run 71 times for 412 yards and three scores.
Schleining's top target all season has been Quentin Bates (6-3, 195), who has 40 catches for 873 yards and 12 TDs (ranking second in the state). In the backfield, 5-8, 185-pound running back Hutu Spencer provides balance with 85 carries for 497 yards and eight TDs while also turning eight catches into 110 yards and two scores.
"Just because we're ranked higher and they're coming down to us doesn't mean that it's a week off for us," said North Medford junior Tristen Holmes. "We still have to come out and act like it's the South Medford game and come out with the most intensity we've had all year and just get the job done and move on to the next week and hopefully keep that going."
While North Medford has no qualms with getting into a shootout — the Black Tornado averages 407 yards and 33 points in its own right — the onus will be on the defense to show the same form it has had in slowing the likes of Sheldon, Grants Pass and Roseburg this season.
"We have the No. 1 defense in the league and I don't think enough is said about that," said North quarterback Troy Fowler, who suffered a late-season concussion and was held out of last year's play-in loss. "Everyone wants to talk about the offense but we're not No. 1, they are. They put us in the best positions to be successful."
The Black Tornado led the SWC in total defense and scoring defense by allowing 310 yards and 20 points per game, and also ranked first in turnover ratio with a plus-10 margin. Spearheading the attack has been defensive linemen Hunter Hermansen and Skyler Black, linebackers Nick Janakes, Edmund Polataivao and Isaac Grether and defensive backs Holmes and Micah Brown.
Reynolds junior Kanyon Flynn led the Mt. Hood Conference with eight interceptions, while senior teammate J.J. Hawkinson managed nine interceptions a year ago to give the Raiders quality defensive options against North Medford's passing attack. Fowler has completed 134 of 224 passes for a program-best 2,170 yards with 23 TDs (one shy of tying school record) and seven interceptions.
The Black Tornado has proven to be balanced on offense thanks to hard work in the backfield by Janakes, who finished second in the SWC with 1,018 yards rushing and 10 TDs on 189 carries.
Reynolds allowed 43 points per game in the regular season and beat McKay 75-55 one week after the Tornado secured a 42-12 win over the same foe.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry