North, South carry momentum into 35th Black and Blue Bowl
South Medford played deep into the night last Friday, straining to be the last man standing in what felt like a 12-round boxing match.
For North Medford, it was a matter of landing an early knockout to wrap up its contest in record time in this COVID-caused spring football season.
The end result was the same for both, meaning each will take momentum and a 3-1 record into Friday’s 35th edition of the Black and Blue Bowl at Spiegelberg Stadium.
“It’s a special game and it’s in a special place,” said North Medford head coach Steve Turner of the crosstown rivalry. “It’s just a different type of game than you get anywhere else. It’s North-South, it’s Black and Blue baby.”
North Medford leads the series 18-16, snapping a three-year losing streak in 2019 with a 52-21 triumph that saw the Black Tornado break open a 14-all contest with 17 straight points in the second quarter.
North running back Devin Bradd played a key role in that win, running for a series-record 239 yards on 19 carries with three touchdowns, and the senior expects to be a focal point again Friday. Bradd has run for 553 yards and five scores this spring.
The Black Tornado has also increasingly shown good balance in the passing game, with senior quarterback Colby Neron averaging 181 yards, two TDs and one interception per outing.
North enjoys matchup nightmares on the perimeter in Bryce Dyer (11 catches, 211 yards, three TDs), AJ Pugliano (10 catches, 168 yards) and Nolan Morris (seven catches, 169 yards, two TDs).
“They can get to you in a lot of ways,” said South Medford head coach Bill Singler of the Tornado offense. “They’ve got size, they’ve got physicalness, they’ve got skill and speed. They’ve got a lot of different things that can hurt you. We’re just hopeful we can put our best foot forward.”
South Medford certainly accomplished that a week ago, winning a back-and-forth battle at Grants Pass 56-55 in a three-overtime thriller that was ultimately determined by a Garrett Henderson touchdown run and ensuing point-after kick by Jude Pannell.
“It’s behind us now, but that was a wild one, that’s for sure,” said Singler. “We’ve had a double overtime with Grants Pass, but that’s the longest one we’ve had with them. We had to extend ourselves, that’s for sure. It came with a price, though.”
Much like North Medford faced when it lost Chance Costanzo for the season to a knee injury in its opening game at Grants Pass, South Medford felt the same pain last week when senior lineman Charlie Campbell injured his left knee attempting to block an extra-point kick after the Cavemen scored in the second OT.
A valuable two-way starter, Campbell will not play in South’s final game Friday and will likely miss his second straight baseball season as well.
“That was a tough pill to swallow,” Singler said of Campbell’s season-ending injury. “He’s been such a heart and soul of our football team for the last couple years. Kids just love him and the coaches do too, so that’s a tough loss.”
Beyond injuries, however, South Medford couldn’t have been more pleased with the determination shown in coming up with one key play after another to tip the scale against the Cavemen.
Sophomore quarterback Deacon Edgar enjoyed his best game passing with four TDs — two to senior tight end Carson Cota — to go with a steady push by the offensive line and running backs to keep the chains moving in the whoever blinks first affair.
Edgar has completed 42 of 77 passes for 443 yards, five TDs and three interceptions. Cota leads the Panthers with 88 yards on eight catches but the Panthers have gotten steady production of late from Colton Samis, Brycen Guches, Andrew Walker and Garrett Smith.
North Medford limited Roseburg to only 37 yards of total offense last week, scoring five first-half touchdowns to enforce a running clock in the second half up 35-0. Roseburg had 45 yards passing and minus-8 yards rushing.
“South Medford presents a lot of different challenges than what Roseburg presented,” said Turner. “It’s not going to be easy sledding against South’s offense, they’ve got some real players. Not that Roseburg doesn’t, but they’ve got a Division I tight end, a couple outstanding running backs and a quarterback that’s a very mobile kid and is getting better every day. Plus their offensive line is an outstanding offensive line.”
It’s that Panther offensive line that gives Turner and company the most pause heading into Friday’s game, even if it will be minus Campbell.
“They’ve been through a lot of wars together and I would consider them the top offensive line in the conference,” said Turner. “Them and Grants Pass, there’s not much difference there. Both of them are veteran groups that give people problems.”
The same could be said for North Medford’s defense, led by all-conference seniors Ethan Prince, Jayden Sandusky, Tanner Gaoiran, Devan Blankenship and Luke Pugliano. The Black Tornado is allowing only 274 yards of total offense and has come on strong to not allow a point in nearly seven quarters.
“We’ve got our hands full, there’s no question about that,” said Singler. “We’re probably going up against the top defense that’s playing right now in the conference so we understand the challenge ahead of us.”
“They like to pressure you and use their athletes and put them in position to be aggressive and be successful,” he added. “They put their foot on the pedal and don’t take it off, really on both sides of the ball.”
For South Medford, Friday will be senior night and, as players learned Tuesday night, the last game of the spring season after the Panthers opted to not add a sixth game in the upcoming culminating week left open by the Oregon School Activities Association. Injuries and low player numbers overall have already taken too much of a toll to try and add a sixth game, likely on the road.
For North Medford, it will be only the second time players may have family members in the stands after last week’s lone “home” game of the spring. South Medford and “visiting” North Medford are splitting the available tickets to reach the allowable 15% capacity for outdoor venues in Jackson County.
The game also serves as a springboard to a highly anticipated season finale for the Black Tornado at Sheldon next week.
“We’re not thinking about any of that,” noted Turner. “It’s South, it’s all South.”
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