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North Medford seeks to slow Sheldon

Black Tornado expects to be tested again Friday by No. 9 Irish

If there’s one thing first-year North Medford head coach Nathan Chin is becoming more and more aware of as the football season rolls on, it’s that there really is no rest for the weary.

“When you play at the 6A level, there’s no easy teams out there,” noted Chin. “You’ve got to be ready to rock and roll every week.”

That sentiment rings true again for Week 7 of the regular season, with the Black Tornado hitting the road to Eugene for a key Southwest Conference clash Friday with ninth-ranked Sheldon.

The good news? By and large, North Medford has been increasingly up for the challenge thus far — even if things didn’t exactly go the Tornado’s way one week ago.

North Medford (3-2, 0-1 SWC) staked Roseburg with a 28-0 advantage before battling back, as has been the case all season, to within one score at 28-20 with 9 ½ minutes to play at Finlay Field.

“It was good to see our kids have the same mentality that they’ve had all year,” said Chin. “They believe regardless of what the score is that they’re going to find a way at some point in the game. They’ve done a phenomenal job with that and it showed again, we just didn’t quite have enough.”

In gut-wrenching fashion, Roseburg’s Logan Klopfenstein returned the ensuing kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown and the Tornado was kept on its heels in ultimately falling 38-20.

Still, the comeback was what Chin and company have chosen to focus on this week heading into what is expected to be another nip-and-tuck affair with Sheldon (5-1, 1-0).

“This group has some good confidence to go play and we have a belief that it doesn’t matter who it is, anywhere and anytime,” said Chin.

“They’re down for competition and they’re excited for the competition every single week, so it’s going to be a fun one.”

At root for North Medford’s turnaround last week were a couple of slight defensive changes, and a resolute effort — especially by senior defensive linemen Erick Santacruz and Brandon Dominguez — to slow Roseburg’s potent 1-2 running tandem of quarterback Colton Marsters and running back Cayden Eckel.

“When our guys up front start playing really well consistently,” Chin said of a group that also includes senior O’Shea Miller, “either they’re making the play or eating up two blockers to allow our linebackers to make the play.”

Marsters was limited to 31 rushing yards in the second half after totaling 158 and three TDs in the first half last week, while Eckel was held to 19 yards rushing in the final half after posting 93 to help spur Roseburg’s 28-6 first-half edge.

The Black Tornado will need much more of that effort Friday against Sheldon, which has its own dynamic QB in Brock Thomas and complementary running back in Grafton Robinson.

Thomas ranks second in the SWC at 833 yards rushing with 13 TDs and has been the league’s most prolific passer at 1,329 yards with 15 TDs and eight interceptions. Robinson has run for 192 yards and four scores and also caught 15 passes for 277 yards and two TDs.

In all, Sheldon leads the SWC with 418 yards of total offense and 41 points per game, with receivers Luke Leighton and Zach McEwen also making for big-play options in the passing game.

A potential benefit is this will be the third matchup for North that has involved a dynamic QB who has the green light to run for big yardage at any time but can also catch you napping through the air. Liberty’s Hiro Diamond, Marsters and Thomas have been a handful for any foe this fall.

“They all have run it a little differently with how they run their quarterback,” Chin said of the offensive schemes. “There’s some similarities and some differences, but it does help to have that carryover and hopefully that helps us hone in and find ways to be able to attack and be able to stop them.”

North Medford’s defense, which has also been spurred by linebackers Kilohana Wailehua, AJ Pugliano and Hudson Greisen, is allowing 369 yards per game.

Offensively, running back Ty Pugliano has been a consistent contributor in helping North amass 289 yards and 22 points per game, with the junior up to 402 yards and five TDs on the ground after a strong showing at Roseburg.

“He’s seeing blocks well and we’re doing a good job up front of being able to get engaged with people and block them,” said Chin. “And he’s not the type that goes down on first contact, he’s been good at getting those extra yards.”

North’s potent passing attack was a little inconsistent last week and will look to be dialed in a little more Friday, with sophomore AJ Pugliano (348 yards, three TDs) and senior Bryce Dyer (298 yards, four TDs) each leading the way with 19 receptions.

Senior quarterback Mason Warren has completed 59 of 105 passes for 837 yards with eight TDs and four interceptions.

Reach sports editor Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

North Medford's AJ Pugliano makes a catch for a first down during the third quarter against Bend. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune