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North looks to slow surging Sheldon

North Medford’s football team will go from one extreme to another in the span of a week with Friday’s home game against Sheldon at Spiegelberg Stadium.

On Monday, the Black Tornado took a necessary first step with a 27-8 triumph over an undermanned South Eugene squad in its Southwest Conference opener.

Friday night, the second-ranked Irish won’t be as easily conquered.

Coming off a 41-7 romp over ninth-ranked West Salem, Sheldon (3-0) appears to be jelling at the right time as it enters SWC play under first-year head coach Josh Line. With a handful of newcomers, including elite college recruits like Michael Johnson Jr. and Raymond Woodie III, the Irish have steadily progressed this season and were in full force on Monday in romping past the Titans.

“We’re trying to treat this like an opportunity for an upset,” said North Medford head coach Mike Mitchell. “It would definitely be that for us and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

North Medford (1-2, 1-0 SWC) will certainly have its hands full in Johnson, whose father is Oregon’s receivers coach and is considered one of the top Class of 2019 quarterback recruits in the nation.

Against West Salem, Johnson had a five-touchdown performance that included 182 yards and three touchdowns on 14-for-22 passing and 160 yards rushing with TD runs of 39 and 59 yards.

For the season, Johnson has completed 33 of 51 passes for 518 yards, 10 TDs and zero interceptions. He has rushed 50 times for 326 yards and four scores.

“They’ve got a quarterback that just jumps out at you in film,” said Mitchell. “He looks pretty good. You have to contain him or you’re in deep trouble against them this year. He can really run the zone read and breaks the pocket a lot and makes things happen with his legs.”

Beyond Johnson, Sheldon junior Zach Folsom has sparked the team’s ground game with 263 yards on 29 carries with three TDs.

Juniors Patrick Herbert and Kimani Quade provide big-play targets on the perimeter for Johnson, with Herbert coming off a six-catch, 119-yard performance that included a 57-yard TD reception. Herbert has caught 13 passes for 187 yards and four TDs, with Quade hauling in seven passes for 99 yards and four scores.

Woodie, whose father is Oregon’s outside linebackers/special teams coach, made his Sheldon debut after missing the first two games with an illness and had two interceptions to complement his threat downfield as a receiver.

To combat such a quality attack, North Medford has a simple game plan: don’t turn the ball over and limit Sheldon’s offensive opportunities.

“They’re averaging 46 points per game, that always scares you when you face teams like that,” said Mitchell. “We have to keep the quarterback under wraps, which is no easy chore, and if we can do that and get our running game going we’ll stay in the game. And if you stay in the game, you can win it. It’s that simple.”

North Medford made strides toward making that a possibility on Monday by rushing for 111 yards on 32 attempts against South Eugene, with Isaac Manuel giving the ground game a push by toting 11 times for 65 yards to complement the speedy Harley Robinson (13 carries for 42 yards).

Sheldon’s defensive line and linebackers will provide a stout barrier toward that continuing, but the Black Tornado has to be encouraged that it’s on the right track.

“Isaac had a big game last week, he really did,” said Mitchell. “He ran hard and gave us some hope, I think. Harley’s still a good back, and between the two of them, we think they’re both good backs and capable of helping us get that run game going.”

Senior quarterback Josh Robbins continues to gain more comfort in the pocket and has completed 38 of 79 passes for 622 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions.

Junior Eli Spence (12 catches, 198 yards, three TDs) has combined with seniors Tyler Evans (11 catches, 168 yards, four TDs) and Vicente Borja (eight catches, 147 yards, one TD) to give Robbins capable targets to move the chains.

— Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry