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Tornado eyes return to form

Hoping to springboard off a big Southwest Conference road win one week prior, North Medford’s football team instead found itself falling flat last Friday in a stunning loss at Roseburg.

Somewhat backed into a corner now with two regular season games remaining, the Black Tornado will look to turn things around at 7 p.m. Friday at Spiegelberg Stadium against a visiting Aloha squad in a similar situation.

“We learned a lesson Friday night that you better come to play in this conference because everybody’s a good football team,” said North Medford head coach Steve Turner of his team’s 42-14 loss to the previously last-placed Indians.

Only one week prior, the Black Tornado (3-4, 1-2 SWC) had pinned the first SWC loss of the season on Grants Pass to snap a three-game losing streak that included two losses on the last play of the game.

“I really couldn’t tell you what happened there,” added Turner of last week. “Football is such a momentum game and we gave away momentum and it took until halftime to stem that tide. We played much better in the second half but for us it was too late.”

Last week was equally forgettable for Aloha (3-4) after a solid start to the season in the Metro League hit a snag in a 17-13 home loss to Mountainside — the first-ever varsity win for the upstart Mavericks.

That leaves both teams equally hungry to get back on track this week in a nonconference contest, and there’s no chance the Black Tornado will be looking past the Warriors.

“They’ve played some pretty tough competitors in the conference in which they’re in and they present a lot of problems,” said Turner. “They’re a dual threat and run the ball as well as they throw it, and they’re big and physical on both sides of the ball.”

Through the first six games, junior quarterback Tim Dennis has been a key playmaker for the Warriors, completing 96 of 186 passes for 1,573 yards, 19 touchdowns and six interceptions. The 6-foot-5, 200-pounder has a host of targets, led by juniors Regan Wilson (34 catches, 641 yards, six TDs) and Ry’montray Reese (20 catches, 333 yards, five TDs) and sophomore Tanner Volk (18 catches, 151 yards, five TDs).

On the ground, Aloha has been led by senior Imani Jamali (42 carries, 165 yards, three TDs) and senior Kalani Song (27 carries, 182 yards).

For North Medford, the game will mark the first start for sophomore quarterback Colby Neron, who takes over after the Tornado lost junior QB Brennan Stults to a broken collarbone in the fourth quarter against Roseburg.

Neron has previously guided North’s junior varsity to an undefeated season after finding similar success a year ago with the freshmen, and has looked very comfortable under center with fourth-quarter duties on occasion at the varsity level.

“Colby’s a competitive kid,” said Turner. “It’s not like he’s afraid of the moment, and he’s actually been working hard and pushing to get the opportunity. I believe he’s ready.”

Taking pressure off Neron is an offense that has been grinding out yards and points throughout the season under the direction of a veteran offensive line and hard-charging senior tailback Eli Spence.

Spence has enjoyed several 200-plus yardage games thus far and could be in line to make some North Medford High history with another big outing Friday night. The 6-5, 220-pounder is 230 yards shy of equaling the single-season rushing record set by Ryan Folsom (1,743 yards in 2005) with 201 carries for 1,513 yards and 18 TDs.

The Black Tornado has also shown positive sparks in the passing game and will look to continue that under Neron, with juniors Jett Carpenter (13 catches, 233 yards, four TDs) and Devyn Grafton (11 catches, 135 yards, one TD) complementing senior Anthony Taylor (eight catches, 208 yards, three TDs).

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