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North ramps up for Grants Pass

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Longtime rivals Black Tornado, Cavemen square off Friday at Mel Ingram Field

North Medford football coach Nathan Chin has preached to his team that each week is individual and the Black Tornado shouldn’t get caught up in anything other than that mentality.

Still, the last two weeks have been pretty sweet for those in the red and black after securing wins over West Salem and North Salem to open play in the South/Central Football Conference.

“I feel like the last couple weeks our kids have done a great job of preparation and on game days just being able to be resilient and have some grit when it comes to making plays,” said Chin. “I’m extremely excited for the kids.”

The Black Tornado (2-2, 2-0 SCFC) hopes to build on that feeling Friday in one of the most traditional matchups the Rogue Valley has to offer when North travels to play Grants Pass (3-1, 1-1) at Mel Ingram Field.

“I’m excited to compete in Grants Pass,” said Chin. “It’s such a cool environment. There’s not many fields out there that do not have a track that separates the stands from the field — it’s just not a common thing — so when you get to play in places like that, it’s a little bit extra that kind of goes with the atmosphere of the game, so I know our kids are excited.”

Even better, North Medford appears to have momentum on its side after a pair of tough losses to open the season against West Linn and Bend, who are a combined 7-1 and ranked second in their respective 6A and 5A coaches’ polls.

“Momentum is so huge in sports,” said Chin. “The confidence that it builds and the preparation that goes into it, and the athletes who see the results of the preparation.”

“It’s good to have momentum on your side, and now it’s about being able to keep on working in that sense,” he said.

The Black Tornado has won four straight in the series, including a 51-7 romp in last year’s meeting. Grants Pass last beat North in 2017, 34-14, but has enjoyed a revival in its own right under first-year head coach Brad Page.

“They are a talented group,” said Chin of the Cavemen. “When you get a chance to see them all summer and that kind of stuff, it’s really evident to see that they’ve got some speed, they’re strong, they have some linemen that move well and a linebacker group that’s tough and plays hard. We’ve got our work cut out for us to continue this because they’re a good, solid group, no doubt.”

Spearheading the Black Tornado attack a week ago was the senior connection between running back Ty Pugliano and quarterback Caiden Lacey, who combined for scoring strikes of 50 and 44 yards for the first TDs allowed all season by North Salem. Alexander Angulo later added a 56-yard TD run to ice the 27-13 victory.

Pugliano has run for 390 yards and three TDs on 80 carries and last Friday provided a glimpse of the same versatility he showed in the passing game a year ago.

Lacey was able to also steadily find junior receivers Connor Cesaro and AJ Pugliano, and senior Isaiah Chavez had his own breakout effort with four catches for 38 yards.

For the season, Lacey has completed 45 of 75 passes (60%) for 513 yards with five TDs and two interceptions. Cesaro has paced North with 19 catches for 222 yards and one score, while AJ Pugliano has 14 catches for 152 yards and two scores.

As key as some of those efforts may have been last week, North Medford’s defensive prowess was also on display in limiting the Vikings to 55 yards rushing and 224 overall.

Pressing frontline efforts by AJ Pugliano, Connor Trinca, Trey Kennedy-Coleman and Easton Abbott were backed up by solid linebacker play from the likes of Jeremiah Robbins, Cameron Nix and Ty Pugliano to keep North Salem on its heels.

“If we keep playing tough defensively like we have been, there’s no doubt we have a chance to compete and play with anyone,” said Chin.

The Black Tornado has been able to trim its yards allowed per game to 297 but will get a big road test from a GP program that has enjoyed a good start to the season by senior QB Jace Blanchard.

Blanchard completed 21 of 39 passes for 267 yards and three TDs in last week’s win over West Salem, and has a dynamic weapon on the perimeter in Jackson Tunick to go with a steady backfield duo of Trevor Reeves and Gage Blay.

Last week, Tunick hauled in 11 passes for 189 yards and two TDs, and the 6-foot senior has been a steady playmaker on offense and special teams.

“Blanchard’s a really good quarterback,” said Chin. “He throws the ball well — and he especially throws the deep ball well — and they’ve got a solid run game. We’re going to have to play good assignment-sound football.”

Have a story idea? Reach sports editor Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com or via Twitter @Kris_Henry

North Medford's Isaiah Chavez makes a catch for a first down at Spiegelberg Stadium Friday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
Ty Pugliano, North Medford football
Caiden Lacey, North Medford football