Tornado looks to build on first win

When you've spent the better part of three weeks putting results in perspective, there's really no need to change that tune. At least that's how North Medford head coach Nate Becksted explained the mood in the Black Tornado camp this week following last Friday's thrilling 46-44 road victory over South Eugene in Southwest Conference football.

The win marked the first for Becksted with the Black Tornado, but only served to make the bus ride back from Eugene a little shorter, according to the first-year coach.

"We're still trying to hold true to the deal of getting better every week," says Becksted. "To try and get to where we want to be in the end, it helps and it's sure nice for the kids because they've worked hard, but we're just trying to take it all in stride."

Making it two in a row for the Black Tornado (1-3, 1-1 SWC) will require a giant leap in productivity given North's opponent, top-ranked Sheldon (4-0, 2-0). The Irish are averaging almost 53 points and 485 yards of offense thus far, limiting their opponents to 11 points and 218 yards per contest.

"We just really want to go out Friday and compete," says Becksted. "We got better in a lot of areas last week and we want to do that again."

Kickoff for the SWC game is slated for 7 p.m. at Spiegelberg Stadium.

In other SWC games Friday, Crater (2-2, 0-2) will host winless South Eugene at Dutch Meyer Field, Grants Pass (1-3, 0-2) is at Thurston (3-1, 1-1) and fourth-ranked South Medford is at No. 3 Roseburg in a matchup of unbeatens.

At the 5A level, Midwestern League play continues with No. 9 Ashland at Marshfield and Eagle Point at top-ranked Marist.

Against the Axemen, North Medford committed to getting the running game going and found considerable success with an effort spearheaded by senior quarterback Zach Tanner. The Black Tornado rolled up 280 yards on the ground on 45 carries, with Tanner supplying the lion's share by toting the ball 25 times for 191 yards and three touchdowns.

"Zach Tanner played a great game," says Becksted. "He's our best offensive weapon so we just kinda figured that we've got to do some things to get the ball in his hands and get him out in space."

When it wasn't Tanner, North also got a standout effort in the backfield from Evan Hisey (16 carries for 98 yards, one TD), who is averaging 5 yards per carry and has come on strong in recent weeks.

Such efforts also served to open a passing attack that had been stagnant through the first few weeks, with Tanner completing 14 of 25 passes for 269 yards and his first TD through the air — a 36-yard connection with senior Mario Saldana that pulled North even at 14-all heading into intermission.

Saldana finished with 161 yards receiving on seven receptions for his best outing of the year, with Garrick Gilbert totaling 49 yards on two catches and Jordan Browne-Moore going for 40 yards on three catches in the team's most balanced effort of the season.

Tanner suffered a shoulder stinger on a 1-yard TD dive that helped stall a South Eugene rally, but Becksted said he has been cleared for practice all week and should be good to go on Friday. Backup quarterback Mark Winans filled in capably in the final two minutes and did well to protect the ball.

Sheldon brings one of the state's most complete teams to the stadium on Friday under the direction of first-year head coach Lane Johnson, who has made the switch from brother Marty seamless and equally successful.

Senior quarterback Dillon Miller hasn't seen much second-half action this year and still has completed 67 of 101 passes for 1,055 yards with 13 TDs against two interceptions. Connor Strahm leads with SWC with 533 yards and six TDs on 22 catches, with teammate Mitch Carman not far behind with 23 catches for 354 yards and five scores.

The Irish also boast a solid running game that is balanced between Ryan Land (32 carries for 212 yards), Mitch Lewis (21 for 176) and Austin Wheeler (29 for 158).

Defensively, Sam McCaskill and Dawson Housley are driving forces for an athletic bunch of playmakers.

"To watch them play, they just don't make mistakes," says Becksted. "And when you make a mistake, they get ya, and that's what good football programs do."

SOUTH EUGENE AT CRATER — South Eugene came out of its offensive slumber last week with 44 points against North Medford as quarterback Braeden Emerick passed for 238 yards and helped a running game that added 197 more yards on the ground.

The passing threat certainly will catch the Comets' attention this week, especially after allowing 424 yards through the air to South Medford last Friday. Crater is allowing 244 yards passing per game but only 90 on the ground.

Sam Wuest paced the Axemen with 139 yards and two TDs on seven catches last week, while Da'Mion Gibson was the leading rusher with 98 yards and one score on 13 carries.

Crater was able to establish an effective run game last week with Ty Wolf and Garrett Alner splitting carries and quarterback Chase Mackey managing a 50-yard TD run. Corey Wynant and Dan Wood also provided nice outlets for the receiving game.

GRANTS PASS AT THURSTON — Thurston being shutout by Roseburg last week certainly raised a few eyebrows given the Colts' high-octane offense, but three potential scoring drives were negated by interceptions as Thurston committed six turnovers overall against the Indians' pressure.

Grants Pass will look to make similar strides on Friday, hoping to control the clock as much as possible with running back Logan Dean (63 carries for 249 yards) working in tandem with quarterback Hunter Rich. Rich has been efficient with five TD passes against only one interception, completing 46 percent of his passes for 442 yards to go with 150 yards rushing.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488,, or

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