Friends turn foes in Black and Blue Bowl
Rivalries can come in a variety of ways, but there’s just something special about an intracity rivalry.
Take, for instance, North Medford senior standout Jett Carpenter. His first three years of football were played with his Black Tornado mates, then he spent his sixth and seventh grade years playing in South Medford’s program before returning to his North Medford roots.
“I’m close with everyone on both sides,” said Carpenter. “Just growing up with both sides and building close relationships, it’s always fun being able to compete against my old friends, just knowing I had a history with them on that side of the field.”
Carpenter’s story is not an unusual one, with players on each side of Friday’s 34th annual Black and Blue Bowl having a deep history with their crosstown rivals after competing against — and sometimes with — each other.
Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Spiegelberg Stadium.
“Rivalries are rivalries,” said Black Tornado head coach Steve Turner, “but it’s different when it’s in a city than when it is two different towns. These kids have known each other since forever and it’s a way, way different rivalry. Unless you’ve been in something like that, you don’t get it.”
“These games are always great to be a part of it,” added Turner. “Obviously everybody is looking forward to it. South is just as we are. It should be a good time I’m sure for everyone.”
In 5A action Friday, Crater looks to lock down the Midwestern League South title when it plays host to Churchill, while Ashland needs a home win over South Eugene to secure a playoff spot. Eagle Point plays host to North Eugene in pursuit of its first MWL win.
At the 3A level, Cascade Christian and St. Mary’s will square off at U.S. Cellular Community Park in a similar intracity matchup as the larger Medford schools.
Although North Medford owns the overall series lead, 17-16, South Medford has enjoyed the better part of the Black and Blue series in recent history. The Panthers take a three-game winning streak into Friday’s game and have won nine of the last 12 meetings.
“That’s the fun part about it for people who are going to come watch the game is that anything can happen,” said Turner, in his second year back at North Medford after serving as defensive coordinator under Rod Rumrey from 1988-97. “Last year it didn’t happen, at least not for us. Everything happened well for them so hopefully we can turn some of that around.”
Both teams enter with the same record, 6-2 overall and 2-1 in Southwest Conference play, but the Black Tornado has played a more challenging schedule — attributed to its No. 11 spot in the Class 6A state power rankings compared to the Panthers’ No. 19 ranking.
“It’s going to be a good game,” said Carpenter. “I hope that we can come out highly energetic and beat the team across town and just kind of show them what type of team we are, and just make it a point (to the state) down here in Medford that we aren’t just nothing, we’re building big programs down here, too.”
North Medford boasts a handful of statistical advantages, most notably from an offense that is averaging nearly 483 yards and 43 points per game with a league-low six turnovers.
“We’re just going to hunker down and do what we can to get the job done,” said South Medford senior defensive end Justin Josephson.
With the SWC’s leading rusher in junior Devin Bradd (1,283 yards, 22 touchdowns), leading receiver in Carpenter (728 yards and nine TDs on 37 catches) and No. 2 passer in senior Brennan Stults (1,572 yards, 15 TDs), North Medford boasts its most prolific attack in years.
“This is the most improved team in our league by far in North,” said South Medford head coach Bill Singler. “They’ve become harder to defend, obviously, because they’re more diversified on offense with talent. Then when you factor in the transfer Bradd at running back, who’s probably one of the top 3 in the state, he has certainly been a great addition to their offense and they’ve certainly put up the numbers.”
The Black Tornado defense is also only 8 yards behind the top-ranked Panthers at 301 yards allowed per game, and about one point shy when it comes to a defense that has allowed 19.9 points per game. North also boasts a league-best 19 takeaways.
“They have our complete respect and attention,” added Singler, in his 22nd season as head coach. “I really think this might be their best team overall since 2003 when they went to the state championship game when you look at the statistics and everything.”
Mind you, South Medford’s statistics entering the big game aren’t anything to sneeze about. The Panthers are allowing only 293 yards and 18.6 points per game, with an offense generating 345 yards and 27 points per game.
Senior transfer quarterback Toren Tuttle holds the No. 1 spot in SWC passing with 1,616 yards and 19 TDs and is complemented by senior Austin Boster, who had been atop the receiving charts until this week but isn’t far off with 707 yards and 11 TDs on 35 catches.
Boster had an amazing streak of 17 straight games with at least one touchdown come to an end in last week’s win over Grants Pass, when the Panthers did the bulk of their damage on the ground.
“As a wide receiver, come on, that’s unheard of,” said Singler. “That’s running back stuff. That’s a pretty good stat in itself.”
Tuttle also ranks among the SWC’s top 10 rushers with 345 yards and five scores, joining senior teammate Zach Miller (230 yards, two TDs).
“Without a doubt he’s been a shot in the arm for those guys,” Turner said of Tuttle. “He’s proved to people that he’s an outstanding high school football player and who knows what afterwards.”
Turner called Friday’s clash “the most important game we’ve had all season,” and certainly doesn’t expect it to be an easy one given the respect he carries for Singler and his staff.
“They are the most well-coached team,” said Turner of the Panthers. “You can tell that they’ve been very well-coached. They’re disciplined, they’re a team and they don’t make mistakes ... all those things that you want in your team, that’s what they are.”
Singler had similar praise for what Turner and company have been able to accomplish this season, which includes narrow road losses to Sheldon (28-27) and Aloha (35-33). The Warriors are No. 6 in the state power rankings and the Irish stand ninth.
“We know that we’re going up against one of the top teams in the state, and they’ve proven that with their play this year,” said Singler. “We’re just happy to be where we’re at and we’re fortunate to have won a couple league games but we know this one will be a lot tougher to win. We have to play at our best this week to even stay in the game, so we’ll see.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry