Tornado gears up for Cavemen

North Medford may be disappointed, but head coach Jeff Olson says his Black Tornado is not done as it strives for a playoff berth for the first time since 2005.

Everyone involved took last week's 28-27 overtime loss to ninth-ranked Sheldon hard, but Olson says the team has regrouped and hopefully is ready to get back on track Friday against No. 6 Grants Pass.

"It's a tough road ahead but if there's a silver lining it's that our future is in our hands, which is nice," says Olson, whose Tornado stands 1-2 in conference and 4-3 overall. "We don't have to depend on anyone but ourselves. The kids know what's in front of them and the attitude has been very positive."

North Medford enters Friday tied with Roseburg for the fourth and final playoff spot in the SWC. Each team will be in the underdog role this week and then square off in the regular-season finale on Oct. 31 in Roseburg.

The Tornado almost set itself up for an easier postseason run against Sheldon, but a controversial two-point conversion attempt that fell short opened the door for the Irish in the first overtime.

Minus a placekicker after Scott Higgins was injured on an earlier attempt, Olson opted to go for two but there was some on-field confusion with the referees and North was assessed a 5-yard delay of game penalty to push the conversion back to the 8.

Instead of trying an extra-point kick with someone who hasn't attempted a field goal all season, the Tornado stuck to its guns and went for a two-point swing pass from Jordan Ellis to Matt Maurer, who was tackled inches from the goal line.

"I didn't want to go out and put a kid in a situation he was not prepared for, so I take that responsibility," says Olson. "We felt we had a good two-point play put together and, if we hit it, we put Sheldon in a difficult position to where not only do they have to score but they have to convert a two-point play as well.

"We had the numbers that we wanted, it just finished six inches short of the goal line."

Since the Black Tornado junior varsity team is without a placekicker, Olson has been holding open auditions this week to fill the void left by Higgins' season-ending injury. Colin Sowers, Ellis and Maurer have all emerged as potential kickers.

"I couldn't tell you when was the last time any of these kids have kicked, but they're getting a lot of practice this week," says Olson, noting the replacements have looked pretty good thus far.

Finding a kicker, however, is the least of the Tornado's concerns this week as it faces a GP team that has simplified its offensive scheme and run roughshod over Sheldon and Roseburg in recent weeks.

Tailback Criss Bowen leads the SWC with 865 yards and 10 TDs on 113 carries, while quarterback Jordy Romick has darted for 462 yards and six scores on 71 carries.

The Cavemen (6-1, 2-1 SWC) have primarily moved the ball on the ground, averaging only about six pass attempts since being intercepted five times by South Medford three weeks ago.

"(Romick and Bowen) are legitimate threats," says Olson. "They're efficient with what they do."

"One thing we've got to be prepared for is the energy level Grants Pass will bring from the beginning," adds the coach. "We have to survive that energy and try to make it a fourth-quarter game."

North expects to regain the services of linebacker Gage Jacobson for Friday, while Sowers will be back to full form after reduced action last week.

Another plus is how effective Ellis and Maurer were in exchanging roles against Sheldon, with Ellis completing 14 of 15 passes for 175 yards and three touchdowns and Maurer going 4-for-5 for 46 yards. Maurer also scored on a run and a reception to complement Ellis' 60 yards on the ground.

While Isaac Silafau has provided a nice boost to North's running game as of late, rushing for 271 yards overall, Kody Bonham has done the same for the aerial attack. The senior slot receiver pulled down a team-high seven passes for 99 yards and one TD last week against Sheldon.

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

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