For a football team focused on working hard and putting its best foot forward every Friday night, North Medford certainly was able to do that — and then some — in its season opener last week at McNary.
Spurred by a relentless running attack, the Black Tornado opened the Steve Turner era in record-setting fashion during its 55-27 win — and remains unsatisfied.
“They played hard,” said Turner of his squad. “We made mistakes but we made mistakes going hard. If we can fix those mistakes, we’ll be a better football team.”
This after North Medford racked up 552 rushing yards and 600 total on the road against the Celtics, including a school-record 343 yards rushing and five touchdown runs by senior tailback Eli Spence.
“I’m not satisfied and they’re not satisfied, we know we can play better,” said Turner.
If there’s any doubt that the Black Tornado (1-0) is taking its first win in stride, all you need to do is speak with Spence himself and ask him about his record-setting outing.
“It’s not much of a record to me,” said the 6-foot-5, 217-pounder. “I feel like that was just one of our first good games and we have a lot of great games to go. If we just keep on going, we could do a lot more yards.”
North Medford will get its next chance Friday night at Spiegelberg Stadium when it plays host to Jefferson (0-1). Kickoff is 7 p.m.
In other Class 6A action Friday, South Medford (1-0) plays at Canby (0-1) and Grants Pass (0-1) is at Summit (0-1).
At the 5A level, Crater (0-1) plays host to Willamette (0-1), Ashland (1-0) is at Springfield (1-0) and Eagle Point (1-0) at Redmond (1-0). This week marks the first of two consecutive weeks where Midwestern League teams play crossover games between the North and South divisions before true divisional play begins in Week 4.
After serving as a utility knife for North Medford the past few seasons on offense, mostly at tight end and receiver, Spence certainly made his presence known statewide as he ran over and around the Celtics time and again during his 25 carries.
“It felt wonderful,” said Spence. “I feel like North finally got to play like North Medford used to last Friday. Everybody showed up and it was great.”
“It was amazing,” he added. “Our team felt like a family that’s ready to kill your family, and all of us enjoyed it.”
For Turner, he didn’t give much thought to the outing by Spence or his team. In simple reality, it was all just a product of North’s offensive unit doing its job.
“It takes 11 guys,” said the veteran head coach, who has won state titles at Cascade and Mountain View. “Our wideouts blocked, our fullbacks blocked and that whole thing. My deal is, that’s what he’s getting paid for, that’s his job. Our job up front is to block and if we all do our job we win, so patting him on the back is great, but that’s his job. That’s what he’s here for. And whoever the other tailback is, that’s his job. Their job is to make yards and put the ball in the end zone.”
While Spence is certainly a force given his size and unique speed and athleticism, he wasn’t the only one who got to stretch his legs against McNary, which attempted to load the box with defenders and gave up several big gainers by North’s runners. Junior Josh Baptiste ran seven times for 103 yards and Tommy Hamilton carried seven times for 51 yards, while Thomas Bates, Dallin England and Colby Neron each averaged 5 yards or more per carry.
Spence credited the Black Tornado’s offensive line for paving the way to such a big night for all.
That starting crew included seniors Tony Bench (center), Kika Stone (right guard), Romello Tialavea (right tackle) and Jullian Stone (left guard) and junior Parker Landon (left tackle).
“I owe it to the bad boys, our offensive line,” said Spence. “When you have my boys Kika Stone, Jullian Stone, Tony and Mello and Parker Landon driving guys 15 yards back and then throwing them an extra 5 yards, running past that as a running back is just an amazing feeling.”
And blocking for a running back like Spence isn’t too shabby either, said Bench.
“It’s great because sometimes we’ll miss our blocks and he’ll just run them over,” said the 5-10, 239-pound returning all-conference center. “That makes us want to block harder so he doesn’t have to do that. And when he gets that edge, it’s just perfect to see him run downfield and then run with him.”
Bench said the offensive line has put in a lot of work in the offseason and to see it rewarded so early was exciting.
“We just kind of jelled together and we came out with that mentality that no one was going to stop us,” said Bench. “They knew what we were running but it didn’t matter, we were just going to run it perfect.”
And while it wasn’t always perfect, the results were certainly impressive.
“It’s a great feeling to set that (single-game rushing) record,” said Bench of Spence’s totals. “It’s the reward that we got for all that hard work we put in the offseason. To see him run like that was great, and mostly because we got the ‘W.’ That was even better.”
Even though the yardage record was something Spence had no idea about until informed of it while putting together this article, he did find special joy Friday in notching his five TD runs, which is also believed to be a single-game record. North Medford doesn’t keep extensive individual single-game records.
Spence’s older brother Will was also a dynamic running force for the Black Tornado in his day, and brotherly competition is something that never goes away. So when Spence strolled in for his fifth rushing score, there was an even broader smile than the others.
“I was pretty stoked because my brother’s personal record was four touchdowns,” said Spence, “and he’s always said I’m not going to be able to break it, and the first game I got to break it. That was pretty cool.”
But as cool as it all was, Turner said it’s important that his team turn the page.
“That’s over with and that’s the mindset we need to have,” said Turner, who was defensive coordinator at North Medford from 1988-97. “OK game over, next game.”
And the next game features an athletic group from Jefferson that certainly has Turner’s attention despite losing 62-12 to Lakeridge in its opener.
“They’re big and they get after the passer and they’ve got really good perimeter people,” said Turner of the Democrats. “They’re that team that if you give them life, they’re going to give you problems.”
And if anyone is going to be doling out problems on Friday night, Turner certainly would prefer it to be his squad. That goes double for being at home at Spiegelberg Stadium, where the coach isn’t sure his team is getting its due statewide.
“For years it’s been where everybody thinks it’s (South Medford’s) stadium, and it’s not,” said Turner. “The first people that played there were Black Tornado, and we need to let people know when they come to Medford to play the Black Tornado they’re coming into that stadium to play us and they better tie it on because we’re going to bring it.”
SOUTH MEDFORD AT CANBY: South Medford head coach Bill Singler has said for years that the biggest growth for a football team comes between Week 1 and Week 2, and his youthful Panthers certainly have room to grow after opening with a 28-7 win over Centennial that, in all honesty, could have been better in terms of overall execution and penalties.
Senior quarterback Giovanni Bottero was steady in his short-game passes with three touchdowns but, due to a lack of ability to practice them in a smoke-filled preseason that confined South indoors, his long-range efforts weren’t as dialed in. With a week of practice outdoors leading up to Friday’s game, expect Bottero to improve on his 16-for-29 showing for 170 yards.
Junior Austin Boster and senior Adam Nanez were Bottero’s top short-range targets with five receptions apiece, and the Panthers will look to unleash a more consistent running attack this week after senior Terrence Butler led the charge last week with 102 yards and one TD on 15 carries.
Canby is coming off a 40-7 loss to Lincoln, which unveiled its own power running game to pull away for the victory.
Linebackers Cole Boster and James Duane helped pave the way to a solid defensive showing in the opener, with the Panthers allowing 173 total yards to go with four turnovers forced.