North, South eager for city showdown
It will be 30 weeks between the last Black and Blue Bowl and the 36th edition when North Medford and South Medford’s football teams square off Friday at Spiegelberg Stadium.
It’s the shortest turnaround in series history and yet, given how the last one played out, almost feels like an intolerably long time to wait for the annual crosstown showdown.
When it comes to dramatic endings, few games in series history rival what transpired April 2.
On that night, the Panthers rallied from a 20-0 deficit with a fourth-quarter flurry to improbably win 35-34. North led 34-21 with 6:05 to play before the tide shifted.
“That was a heckuva ballgame and we certainly don’t want to forget about that year after it got swept under the table a little bit,” said South Medford coach Bill Singler.
That game proved to be the culmination of a delayed 2020 campaign for South played in the spring due to COVID-19. North went on to rout Sheldon, 48-16, a week later.
“That was an awesome way to end our year to come back in the second half and play really well,” added Singler, in his 24th season at South. “We had a lot of things go our way, but yet we had a lot to do with that, too, and ended up stealing a win so to speak from North. But that’s sometimes how that rivalry goes. I know they did the same thing to us in 2005 when they scored in the last seconds to win 20-19.”
About seven months later, the large-school Medford programs are set to battle it out again Friday, with kickoff at 7 p.m. and North Medford serving as the home team.
“It seems like we haven’t even had a break,” Singler added with a laugh.
South Medford has won four of the last five meetings against North Medford, and 10 of the last 14, to close the Black Tornado’s overall series lead to 18-17.
“I’m just excited to be a part of it,” said first-year North Medford coach Nathan Chin, who took over in mid-June following Steve Turner’s retirement. “There’s a lot of history to this, so it’s a lot of fun going into a rivalry game.”
“But for all intents and purposes,” he added, “it’s just another football game and that’s what I’ve really tried to convey to the kids. I know it’s always going to be in the back of their heads — it’s still the Black and Blue Bowl and still a crosstown rival game — but it’s just a piece to the puzzle for us and we’ve got to treat it just like another game.”
That mindset, however, is easier said than done most years, but could be especially challenging to sell given the roller-coaster many returning North players found themselves on not that long ago.
“That sour taste in a competitor’s mouth when something like that happens like last year,” noted Chin, “you’ve got to find some ways to be able to recover from that. Honestly we haven’t talked about it much besides a real quick, ‘Remember what happened last year; there’s no let up.’”
At least on paper, North Medford stands as the favorite Friday.
The Black Tornado (4-3) appears to be firing on all cylinders while the Panthers (1-7) are looking to rebound from yet another loss at the hands of a top-10 opponent, their fifth of the fall.
Both teams, however, enter with 1-2 records in the Southwest Conference, making Friday’s game especially important to South Medford, which still carries faint state playoff hopes. A win locks up third place in the SWC for either program, which comes with an automatic playoff berth.
With a No. 12 power ranking, North expects to reach the playoffs win or lose, while South could be on the outside looking in thanks to a No. 33 power ranking. The top three teams from all Class 6A divisions advance to the 32-team state playoffs, along with the 11 highest ranked teams that aren’t automatic qualifiers.
“I feel really good about where we’re at at this point,” said Chin, whose team is coming off a 51-7 dismantling of Grants Pass.
“It’s going to be another huge obstacle for us because we’re going up against a really good team,” said Singler of the Tornado. “They’ve played a tough schedule in their own right, but they’ve found a way to win a few more games than we have. They certainly seemed to hit their stride last week against Grants Pass.”
North Medford is essentially gaining and allowing the same amount of yardage and points this season at about 342 yards and 28 points per contest, but there’s no doubting that the Tornado appears to have found an identity and settled into roles by this time.
North’s advantage in the trenches in terms of size and experience has played a key role in increased production from the running game in recent weeks, as well as the pressure being applied to opposing offenses.
Senior quarterback Mason Warren also seems to be dialed in during his first year as a starter. The 5-foot-11, 210-pounder has completed 81 of 145 passes for 1,081 yards with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions but also become more of a running threat lately, dashing for another 333 yards and seven TDs on 67 carries.
Junior running back Ty Pugliano has also provided a key foundation for his team’s success, ranking fourth in the SWC with 713 yards rushing on 102 carries with eight TDs.
“Ty has been Mr. Consistent for sure, and that’s a minor term for what he’s done,” said Chin. “He’s been really, really good all year long and that’s been a nice thing to see out of him. We knew he had it in him and it isn’t a surprise to any of us, that was expected just based on being around him and knowing what he can do.”
The emergence of Kilohana Wailehua and Alex Angulo in the running game, along with Warren, has allowed the offense to be more diverse in that realm and continues to set up one-on-one opportunities on the perimeter for playmakers like senior Bryce Dyer and sophomores AJ Pugliano and Connor Cesaro.
Dyers ranks fifth in the SWC with 429 yards receiving on 31 catches with six TDs, while AJ Pugliano ranks seventh (20 catches, 358 yards, three TDs) despite suffering a shoulder injury against Sheldon and missing part of that game as well as the ensuing GP tilt.
Defensively, North Medford has relied on a physical, steady push by senior linemen Erick Santacruz, Brandon Dominguez and O’Shea Miller — who average 250 pounds between them — and the sure-tackling of an athletic linebacker corps to make it tough sledding for opponents.
South Medford enters Friday’s game on a different note, having lost 42-7 with a running clock at No. 8-ranked Westview one week ago.
“I thought our team was heading in that same direction (as North) until we took that trip to Westview,” said Singler. “We played well against Sheldon, we played well against Roseburg, we won the game against Grants Pass, so we’ve shown signs of being a better football team in the last three weeks as well, but last week we hit a roadblock. Of course, the team we played had something to do with it.”
The Panthers, who average 280 yards and 20 points per game, were able to move the ball consistently into Westview territory in that game, but bogged down when it mattered most.
“We did move the ball across the 50 a lot,” added Singler, “but it was one of the worst red zone games that we’ve had in a long time. Hopefully we can correct that this week.”
Chin said he expects to see South Medford dialed in on Friday.
“The travel they’ve had and the teams they’ve played across the state, those are challenges that are hard to overcome,” said Chin. “But coach Singler has been doing it a long time and he knows how to do it. Watching them on film, they’re a well-coached team and they know situations. They’ll have those kids ready to play Friday for sure.”
Junior quarterback Deacon Edgar was at the heart of last spring’s shocker, guiding the Panthers on 80- and 62-yard drives in the final six minutes to upend North. Edgar finished with 225 yards and two TDs through the air to go with his two TD runs in that final stretch.
The 5-11, 175-pound Edgar has completed 77 of 148 passes for 1,152 yards with eight TDs and six interceptions despite missing one game to injury. He also ranks sixth in the SWC with 345 yards rushing and five scores on 69 carries.
Senior running backs Carson Joe and Brycen Guches also propel the Panthers on the ground and through the air. Each has capitalized on steadier efforts from a young cast of linemen, mostly sophomore-driven, to churn out better numbers with each increasing game. Joe has run for 275 yards and five TDs, while Guches has averaged 4.5 yards per carry with two scores.
Junior receiver Andrew Walker also gives South a game-breaking threat, ranking third in the SWC with 454 yards receiving on 21 catches with two TDs, and is complemented well by versatile senior Colton Samis (16 catches, 213 yards, three TDs). Juniors Ty Henry and Josh Phillips each have six catches for 99 and 91 yards, respectively, with one TD apiece.
“Obviously Carson Joe is a big heavy hitter for them on both sides of the ball,” said Chin of his impressions of South, “and Walker has a lot of speed that challenges a lot of people in the state.”
Defensive stops have been a struggle thus far for the Panthers, who allow 420 yards and 37 points per game, but the aforementioned Joe, Samis and Walker have been joined by junior Dylan Espinosa and sophomores Gio Livingston, Gabe Staszak and Logan Crocker in providing highlight efforts in recent weeks.
Reach sports editor Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry