Tornado set for another stiff test

Tornado set for another stiff test

Jeff Olson has certainly appreciated the pats on the back and kudos from well-wishers in the week since his North Medford football team gave No. 2 Westview all it wanted in a 27-24 defeat.

But coming close never has been a source of celebration for Olson, not in his time with the Black Tornado or when he was at Southern Oregon University.

"Getting compliments and 'You guys played a great game' has been nice, but the bottom line is we still lost," says Olson. "But when you talk about the kids, if you compare Week 1 with Week 3, it's like night and day. It's a completely different team now than the one that took the field against Lakeridge in that first week."

Olson and company will be looking for that week-to-week progression to pay off when Lincoln comes to town tonight for a 7 p.m. kickoff at Spiegelberg Stadium.

In tonight's other games involving Southwest Conference teams, South Medford (2-1) is at Wilson (2-1), Forest Grove (3-0) is at seventh-ranked Grants Pass (4-0), Roseburg (2-1) plays host to Bend (2-1) and Churchill (2-1) is at No. 6 Sheldon (3-1).

The Cardinals of the Portland Interscholastic League have experienced their own fair share of adversity thus far, but appear to have righted the ship with an impressive 38-14 win over Tualatin last week.

"Watching their previous games, I don't know that they got the quarterback play they wanted," says Olson, "but they certainly did last week."

Making his first start at quarterback, Lincoln senior Jayson Hobby completed 18 of 23 passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns — two to senior speedster Jordan Polk. Hobby was also the leading ground gainer for the Cardinals (1-2), running out of the shotgun formation to the tune of 91 yards and one score on 22 carries.

"When you're trying to focus and put attention on (Polk) and then have to deal with a quarterback running the ball the way (Hobby) does, that does create some problems," says Olson.

As one of the fastest players in the state, Polk has commanded a defense's attention for years. His breakout game came two years ago at the Tornado's expense, with the 5-foot-10, 175-pound sprinter hauling in three TD passes during a 56-28 win in the state quarterfinals.

Polk was fresh off the JV squad back then, but has continued to thrive in the varsity spotlight. He added another TD reception against North during last year's 28-26 win at PGE Park, and was named to the all-state second team as a wide receiver.

"They get the ball to him as many different ways as they can," Olson says of Polk, who had 11 receptions for 118 yards last week. "Whether it's punt returns or kick returns, in the backfield or at receiver, he's everywhere."

Harassing Hobby could potentially open the door for one-on-one matchups downfield between Polk and a Tornado defender, and that's something Olson would like to avoid as much as possible.

"We don't have anyone who can match his speed," says the coach, "so we're going to have to mix things up defensively as much as possible."

That same defense did yeoman's work last week in slowing a very physical Westview team. North Medford forced three turnovers against the Wildcats, with Quinton Walker returning a fumble 47 yards for a score to give the Tornado a 17-9 lead in the third quarter.

The Black Tornado intercepted a pass on the ensuing drive and returned the ball to the Westview 20, but the drive stalled and North had to settle for no points in what Olson describes as the turning point of that contest.

"We actually went backwards and they turned around and drove down the field and tied the game," he says. "That was a 14-point swing right there."

Moving the ball was a struggle for North against Westview, with the Tornado gaining only 16 yards rushing on 17 attempts among its 122 yards of total offense. Real estate stands to be hard to come by again, especially if standout defensive lineman Ethan Johnson returns after a two-game absence due to a knee injury. The 6-5, 270-pounder has committed to play next year at Notre Dame.

Turnovers slowed the Cardinals' progress up until last week, with Southridge forcing seven turnovers in a 28-7 win two weeks ago that led to Hobby taking over at QB for junior Blake Rudolph.

"If we can continue doing what we're doing, which is minimize mental mistakes, create turnovers on the defensive side and eliminate turnovers on our side," says Olson, "we're going to give ourselves a chance because the kids are beginning to believe they can compete."

SOUTH MEDFORD AT WILSON — A week after allowing 242 yards rushing to Sunset, South Medford faces yet another run-dominated, unconventional offense in the Wilson Trojans.

Wilson uses a double-wing attack with a veer option to rank among the state's top producers on the ground — just the thing you want to hear when it took your team an entire half to figure out how to slow the Apollos' fly offense last Friday.

"It's going to be a challenge," says South Medford coach Bill Singler. "We've got to be a week better at defending the run, and hopefully we will be."

Like Sunset last week, Wilson employs a clock-eating attack designed to keep the ball away from its opponent. The Trojans are led by running backs Trevor Beltz and Ian Hudson, who each ran for two scores in last week's 34-12 win over Newberg.

Beltz also had a three-TD effort against West Linn in a season-opening 19-17 victory.

The Achilles' heel for the Trojans has involved turnovers and penalties, with Wilson losing three of its four fumbles during a 38-14 loss to McNary. In that game, the Trojans also committed 14 penalties for 113 yards.

While the Panthers were slow starters on defense last week, they more than made up for it with a spirited effort in the second half to help pave the way to a 28-21 win. Linebackers D.J. Titus, E.J. Singler and Sam McLaughlin were especially effective, with Titus accounting for an amazing 20 total tackles.

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

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