North Medford, Roseburg control playoff destiny

It's really very simple when North Medford and Roseburg square off in Friday's winner-takes-all battle for the Southwest Conference's fourth and final spot in the state playoffs.

Both teams know the deal, so now it's just about who wants it more.

"Playoffs for us start this week," says North Medford coach Jeff Olson. "It is nice that we don't have to rely on anybody but ourselves. We have a chance and that's all you can ask for. It's a real clear picture for both of us."

The playoff picture may be the only clear thing about Friday's game at Finlay Field.

Each team has endured more than its share of heartbreak amid some good moments this season, but a second league triumph could be the cure for all that ails.

The Black Tornado (4-4, 1-3 SWC) will be seeking to snap a two-year playoff drought and keep hope alive for its first winning season since 2005. On the flip side, Roseburg (2-7, 1-3) is already assured of its first losing season since 1979 but can still add to its streak of 16 straight trips to the state playoffs.

"Their record is not a typical Roseburg year," says Olson, "but they've played very well at home. (Roseburg coach Thurman Bell) has been around for a long time and there's no question in my mind he'll have those kids ready to play."

As for his own team, Olson has high hopes that his team will be able to shake off three straight losses to top-10 teams in South Medford, Sheldon and Grants Pass and right the ship on the road Friday.

"We've had a two-year (playoff) drought and this group seems very committed to be the one to get the Black Tornado back in the playoff picture," says Olson. "We have a chance, now it's up to us to finish the job."

Roseburg is coming off a tough, 41-7 loss to No. 2-ranked South Medford in a game where the Indians committed five turnovers to undermine some lengthy offensive drives. The Indians are 0-5 in road games but have gone 2-2 at home, including a 28-20 loss to fifth-ranked Grants Pass two weeks ago.

"We've just got to get off the deck and come back and play hard and not have five turnovers again," Bell said of facing North after last Friday's loss. "From what I've seen, North's a very good football team and they're capable of doing the same things as South (Medford). They have a lot of big-play people."

Junior quarterback Matt Maurer came up big for the Tornado in last week's 34-24 loss to GP, completing 13 of 19 passes for 152 yards and three touchdowns. After going to a hurry-up offense, Maurer's two fourth-quarter TD passes helped pull North within 10 points with about four minutes to go.

The left-hander has completed 60 of 105 passes overall for 666 yards and 10 TDs.

"Matt Maurer played exceptional, he really did," says Olson.

"I was really proud of all the kids," he adds. "They fought back and almost put themselves in position to win the game."

North will need more of the same on Friday, as well as continued solid play from fellow quarterback/receiver Jordan Ellis and all-purpose senior standout Isaac Silafau. Those three will be asked to pick up the slack on offense after junior tailback Colin Sowers was ruled out for Friday's game thanks to a re-occurrence of a concussion sustained Oct. 10 against South Medford.

Sowers, who has rushed for 347 yards on 70 carries and also starred at linebacker, was shaken up in the second quarter against the Cavemen and didn't return. His postseason status is unknown.

Sophomore Fiki Silafau has also been pulled up to full-time varsity status to help offset Sowers' loss.

While North Medford has only won once in three road trips thus far, the Black Tornado has won four of the last six games against Roseburg — including a 2-1 record over that span at Finlay Field.

"This is a group that, if we can get out of this conference, I just want to see what these kids can do against some of the other teams in the state," says Olson.

Roseburg ranks last or next-to-last in the main team statistics, but has viable threats in the backfield in tailback Josh Weaver and battering-ram fullbacks Joe Hennricks and Lucas Corder. Quarterback Thaddeus Davis has also fared well handling Roseburg's veer option attack.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail

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