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North Medford, South Medford embrace challenges

From one high-powered offense to another, the challenge certainly doesn’t get any easier for the North Medford football team.

And none of that matters to the Black Tornado, which welcomes the opportunity to move from one of the state’s best teams in Sheldon to another potent 4-1 squad, this time on the road, in Grants Pass on Friday night.

“It doesn’t really matter where we play, we’re getting a chance to play,” said first-year North Medford head coach Steve Turner. “We’re happy to be out on the field and competing, and it just happens to be Grants Pass is our next opponent.”

The Cavemen have won the last four meetings between the area rivals, and enter the contest averaging a Southwest Conference-best 443 yards of total offense to go with 44 points per game.

“They’re a high-powered offense, that’s for dang sure, they score a lot of points,” added Turner. “That’ll be a tough stop. I don’t think you can really stop them, you just have to maybe contain them a little bit. They’ve got great skill kids and they pretty much have dominated everybody they’ve played, they can score anytime.”

That said, it’s not like North Medford isn’t used to the competition and isn’t going to be fielding 11 defenders to combat such a threat.

The Black Tornado has lost three straight games since a 2-0 start but has fared well defensively, allowing an average of 323 yards per game with 14 takeaways behind linebackers Owen Grafton, Thomas Bates and Jett Carpenter and a steady push by linemen Tony Bench, Romello Tialavea and Juan Velazquez.

Last week, the Black Tornado limited the Irish to 282 yards and essentially three touchdowns allowed on offensive possessions in the 35-6 setback, with one score coming two plays after an errant punt snap left Sheldon knocking at the door at the 5-yard line and another score coming on a partially blocked punt return.

Still, Turner noted, last week isn’t this week, and one opponent doesn’t directly translate to another.

“To start doing comparisons like we held these guys to this or that, it really doesn’t matter,” said Turner. “What happened last week doesn’t matter because you’ve got to play each week in this league, and in this state you can’t be satisfied with what we did last week.”

Quarterback Chase Coyle, a 6-foot-2, 204-pound junior, has taken well to his first season as a starter for Grants Pass and leads the SWC with 1,544 yards passing and 16 TDs after completing 105 of 157 passes with four interceptions.

Accordingly, the Cavemen boast three of the top four receivers in the SWC — only South Medford’s Austin Boster prevents a complete top-3 sweep — with seniors Randy Clark, Blain Hobbs and Korbin Lopez. Clark has 34 catches for 625 yards and eight TDs, Hobbs 28 catches for 419 yards and three scores and Lopez 27 catches for 368 yards and five TDs.

Senior running back Jaren Emptage (5-11, 180) has allowed the Cavemen to provide a balanced offensive attack with 494 yards rushing and 10 scores on 64 carries.

“They have all the things that an offense needs,” said Turner. “Obviously they’re going to be a real difficult opponent to try and defend.”

As North Medford was able to do last week, sometimes the best defense is an offense that can control the ball and keep the opposing team’s offense on the sideline. The Black Tornado certainly has that, led by senior running back Eli Spence, but will try to take the next step this time around by finishing off those time-consuming drives with points.

Spence has run for an eye-popping 1,167 yards and 14 TDs in five games on 137 carries, providing the bulk of a push for an offense that averages 405 yards per game.

As a complement, junior Josh Baptiste and seniors Dallin England and Tommy Hamilton have each averaged at least 9 yards per carry.

Junior quarterback Brennan Stults has completed 22 of 40 passes for 315 yards, five TDs and three interceptions, with his top targets coming from Carpenter (eight catches, 120 yards, three TDs) and senior Anthony Taylor (six catches, 102 yards, one TD).

ROSEBURG AT SOUTH MEDFORD: Roseburg may have only one win thus far but a 1-4 record is not a determining factor when it comes to how much of a potential threat the Indians pose.

Last week to open SWC play, Roseburg pushed Grants Pass to its limit before falling 44-39. A week prior, the Indians also showed positive signs in a 40-20 loss at Bend.

“They definitely have our attention,” said Panthers head coach Bill Singler. “They’re going to come down here with the idea that we’re a better football team and we’re going to go after South Medford. We’re going to get a good football team down here for homecoming, and we’ve got to answer the bell.”

Roseburg’s overall numbers aren’t as telling as how much better they’ve been playing in recent weeks, and much of that has to do with the play of senior quarterback Collin Warmouth (6-3, 175). Warmouth has completed 58 of 105 passes for 720 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions while also providing a dual threat with 55 carries for 192 yards and four scores.

Balancing Roseburg’s attack has been junior running back Doran Gillespie (5-10, 180), who has run for 394 yards and five scores on 82 carries. On the perimeter, Warmouth’s top targets include junior Peyton Bryant (22 catches, 252 yards, three TDs) and seniors D’Angelo Adams (13 catches, 245 yards, three TDs) and Kole Bare (seven catches, 140 yards, one TD).

South Medford’s defense has been a bright spot all season, allowing an SWC-best 254 yards and 15 points per game with 10 takeaways.

Defensive linemen Sam Willis, Vincent Rivera and Justin Josephson have helped lead the charge at the front line for the Panthers, with a deep linebacker corps spearheaded by James Duane, Cole Boster, Jaxin Kinler and Cole Garske applying steady pressure.

Offensively, senior quarterback Giovanni Bottero continues to grow as a first-year starter and has completed 62 of 99 passes for 826 yards, seven TDs and three interceptions. His leading targets have been junior Austin Boster (20 catches, 430 yards, six TDs) and senior Adam Nanez, who is averaging 9.1 yards per reception.

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

North Medford's Dallin England (left) and Juan Velazquez stop Bend's Nate Denney for a loss earlier this season.{ } ANDY ATKINSON / MAIL TRIBUNE