Junior standout Nick Janakes (14) is North Medford's top rusher with 1,147 yards on 225 carries this season.

Tornado takes show on the road

When fifth-ranked North Medford visits No. 2 Tigard on Friday, there's no question it will be the underdog.

The numbers are simply too staggering for that not to be the case for the upstart Black Tornado.

Consider this: Tigard has scored at least 50 points in each of its last seven games and won every game this season by at least four touchdowns. Then there's a plus-28 turnover ratio for the Pacific Conference champion Tigers (11-0), and an average domination that finds them outscoring teams 56-13 and outgaining them in total yardage 525-247.

Any team would be hard-pressed to not drop into the shadows in the wake of such numbers, but statistics haven't really been a telling tale for the 10-1 Southwest Conference champions thus far.

"Tigard is a very good football team when you watch the films," said North Medford head coach Mike Mitchell. "But anybody can be beaten on a given night, it's just going to take an effort."

It will take the same kind of effort that has made the Black Tornado the biggest turnaround story of the high school football season. Two years ago the program didn't win a single game — after later forfeiting its only on-field victory — and last year it won twice and one of those was against a team that went winless.

But much to the delight of the North Medford faithful, the Black Tornado (10-1) enters Friday's quarterfinals of the Class 6A football state playoffs on a 10-game winning streak with confidence building wins over the likes of No. 4 Sheldon and No. 6 Oregon City among others.

"You can go through a season and you can scratch out a win here or a win there and somebody can say you're fortunate or the ball bounced right or whatever," said Tigard head coach Craig Ruecker, "but when you put together a season of winning 10 straight it's very obvious that they have talent, great coaching and great grit because they seem to hang in there and hang in there and make plays. Whether it's against Sheldon at the end of a ballgame or against Oregon City at the end of a ballgame, they make plays to come out on top."

It's that can-do spirit that North Medford hopes to lean on Friday, with a focus on simply making things a little tougher for Tigard to hang in long enough to have a chance at the upset. In last week's 62-3 win over Grants Pass, the No. 3 representative from the SWC, Tigard recovered four fumbles and had three interceptions to routinely take over in Cavemen territory.

"To win a game you've just got to hang in a game and that's exactly what we did against Sheldon and when it came down to win we won it," said Mitchell. "It's the same thing as this week against another really fine team, we've just got to hang around and give ourselves a chance. We've got to be real conscious of not turning the ball over against these guys and make them play long-field football. They've been real effective when they get the ball on the 40."

The undefeated run Tigard is making has involved a steady climb since Ruecker took over the program in 2009. In his 43 years of coaching — 37 as head coach — Ruecker has found success at Reynolds, Glencoe and Redmond before taking over a Tigers program that beat North Medford for the state title in 2003 but had slipped a bit in the following years.

In Ruecker's first season the Tigers lost in the first round of the state playoffs for the fourth straight year. Tigard lost in the second round in 2010, the quarterfinals in 2011 and the semifinals a year ago — leaving high hopes that the upward trend will continue in 2013.

"This group is just kinda following in the tracks of the last couple years but there are some very good football players here," said Ruecker, whose Tigers went 11-1 in 2011 and 11-2 in 2012.

While the offensive numbers are off the charts, Tigard's true strength rests in a defense that is both opportunistic (with 36 takeaways) and stifling (allowing a touchdown or less on five occasions). The Tigers have scored six defensive touchdowns thus far and is the prime reason why the offense has been able to have so many short-field opportunities.

"They're big and strong and quick and that means bad things when you're playing them," said Mitchell.

Senior middle linebacker Jake Biglow, at 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds, is a three-year starter that Ruecker dubbed "the heart" of his team's defensive effort.

"He's the quarterback of our defense and has been for three years," said Ruecker.

Biglow stands fourth on the team with 39 tackles, with fellow inside linebacker A.J. Hotchkins (6-0, 230) tied for the team lead at 49 tackles with defensive end Joe Lobbato (6-3, 210). Defensive end Nick Duron (6-4, 205) has 47 tackles, while defensive tackles Kevin Henderson (6-0, 305) provides an immovable object that's complemented by the raw 4.7 speed of tackle Jacob Mullen (5-8, 205).

Tigard's secondary features Eastern Washington commit Manu Rasmussen at cornerback as well as steady safeties Alex Janac and Samuel Inos, who are fifth and seventh, respectively, in tackles for the Tigers.

Offensively, the Tigers have been balanced behind the play of quarterback Jett Even and running back Rasmussen. Even has completed 113 of 168 passes for 2,278 yards, 27 TDs and two interceptions, while Rasmussen has run 130 times for 1,670 yards and 29 TDs.

Daren Rodrigues (36 catches for 922 yards and six TDs) and Brady McGetrick (15 catches for 328 yards and three TDs) have been the leading targets for Even, with Bruin Campbell, Inos and Rasmussen also in double figures for receptions.

The trick of it all, however, is that Tigard has played in so many blowouts thus far that the stats don't truly reflect the quality of players.

"It's been a very strange year," said Ruecker. "It's been great for team morale and great in developing younger players but probably half of our games the starters have never played in the second half."

North Medford hasn't had that luxury but it's also helped battle-test a junior-led squad that is only outscoring teams 32-20 and outgaining them 393-324 but continues to come through in the clutch.

"They appear to be winners," said Ruecker. "They appear to have wonderful grit and determination and I think they're a complete football team. Offensively they have the ability to do lots of things and they kind of hunt and peck around looking for a weakness in somebody's defense."

"And on defense," he added, "they look very, very good. Just looking at their scores, to hold Sheldon to 17 points when Sheldon has the respect of the entire state and how many points Sheldon can score says a lot about North Medford's defense. Then to hold Roseburg to 10 and Oregon City to nine, their defense seems to be very, very good and concerns us."

North Medford's interior defensive line play from Hunter Hermansen, Calvinn Casaday and Skyler Black, along with the efforts of linebackers Nick Janakes, Edmund Polataivao and Isaac Grether, have been key to the team's efforts thus far.

On offense, quarterback Troy Fowler stands as the Black Tornado's single-season leader in passing (2,640 yards) and passing TDs (29) after completing 157 of 270 passes with 10 interceptions. Allowing him to be more efficient are receivers Jared Evans (44 catches for 798 yards and nine TDs), Tristen Holmes (35 catches for 660 yards and eight TDs) and Eugene Ellis (28 catches for 431 yards and six TDs).

Tailback Nick Janakes was held in check last week by an Oregon City team that completely committed to stopping him but the junior standout has still rushed for 1,147 yards and 13 scores on 225 carries and caught 23 passes for 295 yards and four TDs.

"We cut ourselves down to get right for Oregon City but we've got to run some different sets this time," said Mitchell. "Nick's a good running back and he has to have a good game for us and Troy's going to see some pressure so he's got to learn to get rid of the ball and not turn it over but his progress has been better every week."

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

Share This Story