Black Tornado regroups for state playoffs
The disappointment felt after last Friday’s regular-season ending loss has slowly transitioned into the realization that the road hasn’t come to an end for the North Medford football team, it’s only become a little more challenging.
The Black Tornado lost its grip on a potential state playoff opener at home and wound up placing fourth in the Southwest Conference with its 40-34 loss to South Medford, but none of that matters now.
At least, that’s what first-year head coach Nathan Chin and company have been preaching this week in leading up to the Class 6A state playoffs and a first-round date against 16th-seeded McNary in Keizer at 7 p.m. Friday.
“Kids take it tough and coaches take it tough and the community and our school takes it tough, especially an emotional one like that where it’s against the crosstown rival and it’s the Black and Blue Bowl,” Chin said of last week’s setback. “From a program standpoint, though, we’ve really tried to focus on the opportunities that are in front of us, because nothing will change what happened from before, we just have to learn from it.”
“It’s a new season,” added the coach. “Now that you’re in the playoffs, the record doesn’t matter how you got in. We’ve just got to focus on us and the details and doing things right.”
In reality, the 17th-seeded Black Tornado (4-4) did a lot right one week ago.
North Medford racked up 497 yards of total offense, with junior running back Ty Pugliano accounting for about 200 of those yards on the ground and senior receiver Bryce Dyer another 100 through the air.
The difference, however, involved three turnovers, a myriad of penalties and an inability to get many defensive stops.
“Our offense did a great job,” said Chin. “When you put up almost 500 yards of offense and lose, it’s frustrating. It really came down to big plays and turnovers. We let loose a handful of big plays (by South) and then we had a couple turnovers on top of that. Those two things mixed together make it really tough to win a football game.”
As much as anything, though, those costly turnovers were more from extra effort that came back to bite the Tornado and some big plays made by the Panthers, who forced two drive-halting fumbles against senior Mason Warren in the second quarter and added a third-quarter interception on a diving effort.
“We’d been doing a better job taking care of the football but they kind of got after it and punched the one away on Mason as he’s trying to give second and third effort,” said Chin. “You can’t fault kids on that, but we also have to fall back on the things we’re coached to do and carry the ball well. It’s that fine balance.”
Given an immediate chance at redemption this week, Chin said he expects his team to play well against McNary (6-3), which tied for third in the Mountain Valley Conference and opened the season with a 35-13 win over South Medford.
Both teams come in with about the same bitter taste in their mouths, with North having lost three of its final four games and McNary losers of three of its last five.
At the 16th and 17th spots in the state seeding, the only thing that seemingly divides the teams is home-field advantage Friday — and that isn’t deterring Chin.
“Every national championship run we had at SOU was almost this same way where we had to go on the road,” said Chin, a former Raiders assistant coach. “It just gives us a challenge that we’ve got to be able to answer.”
Offensively, North Medford is averaging 361.9 yards and 28.9 points per game behind an imposing offensive line and potential seven-man front that has opened things up for Warren and Pugliano.
Pugliano has run 127 times for 920 yards and nine touchdowns, which rank him fourth in total yards rushing gained but his 115 yards per game put him third in that equation behind Sheldon’s Brock Thomas (148.8) and Roseburg’s Colton Marsters (133.8).
Warren has completed 96 of 167 passes for 1,248 yards with 12 TDs and seven interceptions, while also running for 414 yards and 10 scores, including three last week against South.
On the receiving end, Dyer has hauled in 38 passes for 529 yards and seven TDs while sophomore Connor Cesaro has stepped up in the recent absence of injured standout tight end AJ Pugliano to catch 14 passes for 164 yards and one TD.
AJ Pugliano, who already holds an offer from Oregon as a sophomore and recently visited Notre Dame, injured his shoulder Oct. 15 against Sheldon after being tackled and has remained sidelined waiting for clearance to return ever since.
North Medford’s defense will be tested again Friday by a senior-driven McNary squad led by quarterback Tyler Copeland (6-3, 200), receiver Gunner Smedema (5-9, 175) and running back Dakota Dunagan (5-8, 185).
“They’re an aggressive, downhill team,” said Chin of the Celtics. “On the offensive side, they get a good surge and they throw the ball fairly well. On the defensive side, they just trigger so we’re going to have to do a really good job of getting our eyes up and getting on (linebackers) where some teams maybe will be at 4 or 5 yards but they’re going to be at 2 or 3 yards. It will be a physical football game.”
The Celtics have allowed more than 27 points only once this season, a 34-27 loss to West Salem, and are giving up only 15.9 points per game.
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