North Medford’s football team has every reason to feel good these days.
But there’s also reason for skepticism, and that’s what makes every week moving forward that much more important for first-year head coach Steve Turner and the Black Tornado.
“The message is to not be complacent,” said Turner of preparation for Friday’s home game against Bend. “If you look in the rearview mirror, all you see is what’s behind you so we’re not doing that. We’re looking ahead and not looking behind.”
That’s not to say the Black Tornado (2-0) doesn’t have plenty to look back on after dominating efforts thus far against McNary and Jefferson, but there is time for a little caution in going overboard about an offense that has averaged nearly 59 points and 516 yards per game and a defense that has forced 11 turnovers.
It’s very possible that North Medford caught the Celtics off guard in the season opener with a relentless running attack rarely seen these days at the Class 6A level. And while Jefferson has promising talent, the Democrats still find themselves among the lower tier of 6A programs as their rebuilding resumes.
That’s what makes this week’s nonleague clash so important for the Black Tornado as it seeks to maintain momentum against a Bend program that opened with a 55-21 win over Barlow and found positives in a 56-27 road loss against a talented West Salem squad.
“They’re learning how to work harder, they’re learning how to work together and they’re learning how to work for each other,” said Turner of his team. “We’re not there yet, but we’re gaining ground.”
It’s on the ground where North Medford has enjoyed its most success thus far under Turner, who has put an emphasis on winning the battle in the trenches and wearing down opponents. The Black Tornado is averaging about 438 of its 516 yards per game with a running attack spearheaded by senior standout Eli Spence and a stout offensive line.
Spence has run for an average of 13.9 yards per carry to amass 529 yards and seven touchdowns on 38 carries — rarely seeing second-half action thus far after North Medford has built sizeable halftime advantages.
It hasn’t all been Spence, however, taking advantage of the run-first scheme. The Black Tornado has four other runners who have eclipsed 40 yards this season, including junior Josh Baptiste, who has run for 125 yards and one TD on 11 carries.
North Medford was able to take a big step last week against Jefferson in the passing game under junior quarterback Brennan Stults, who threw for two scores last week and has completed 9 of 13 passes for 138 yards and three TDs overall.
“In order for us to really challenge people we have to be really good at throwing the football,” said Turner. “Obviously we’re working on that, especially now that we can get outside where we have field space and can throw the thing more than 15 or 20 yards. We’re working on those sorts of things and it showed last week.”
Anthony Taylor, Jett Carpenter and Devyn Grafton have provided good options on the perimeter for Stults, who has been efficient in guiding an offense with zero turnovers.
Last week’s game against West Salem didn’t go the way Bend may have wanted after falling down 28-0, but the Lava Bears were able to battle back some from that experience and will look to use that experience to their advantage against the Black Tornado.
Bend is making the jump from the Class 5A level this year, and there’s plenty of familiarity given Turner’s four-year background as head coach at Mountain View High before guiding Cascade the past four years.
“Bend does what Bend does,” said Turner. “They’re very well-coached and a disciplined football team. You’re not going to pull a fast one on them. And we’ve played against each other, which adds another element. They know me and I think I know them, even though it’s been a few years. I’m looking forward to a team that’s going to come in and be disciplined, and they’re not going to make mistakes.”
In Bend’s season opener, running back Kyle Reed (5-foot-11, 180 pounds) rushed for 95 yards and two touchdowns, while fellow senior Payton Davis (5-11, 200) ran for 75 yards and another two scores. Senior quarterback Cooper Simmonds (5-10, 170) has proven to be a dual threat, throwing for two TDs against Barlow while running for another score.
To counter the veteran Bears on each side of the ball, Turner’s outlook is a simple one: North Medford just has to be better.
“We know what we’re doing but we need to do what we’re doing better,” said Turner “If we’re pulling, we’ve got to pull faster. We’ve got to have sharper angles. Everything’s got to get better. It’s the little nuances we’ve got to fix.”
One little nuance Black Tornado fans may notice Friday night at Spiegelberg Stadium is the absence of any logos on the player’s helmets. That is not a case of logos that haven’t arrived yet — as happened a few years ago — but rather an intentional choice by Turner that his players have fully supported.
It’s a throwback to the old Medford helmets in a year where Turner and company are trying to harken back to the good ol’ days.
“We put the old Medford stripe on there and if you put that big ‘M’ on the side of the helmet, it’s too busy and to me it doesn’t look good,” said Turner. “And the kids love it. If you look at the old Medford days, that’s what they were. Fred Spiegelberg was not a fashion statement and neither am I. Not that I’m a Fred Spiegelberg, by any means, but that’s the reason why.”