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PREP FOOTBALL: Tigers look to contain Black Tornado

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Tigard senior linebacker AJ Hotchkins (33), next to teammate Joe Lobbato, yells after tackling Grants Pass  running back Zachary Hannan (23) in the first half of the second-round playoff game.In Friday's quarterfinal round of the OSAA Class 6A football playoffs, Tigard will face a red-hot North Medford squad that is riding a 10-game winning streak.

So, what is Tigard going to do to get ready to take on the powerful Black Tornado?

Well, the Tigers say, the answer is simple — they’re not going to change a thing.

“We just have to play our game,” Tigard senior tight end/linebacker Jake Biglow said earlier this week. “We’re going to do what we do.”

“It’s a big game, and we’ll be prepared,” Tigard senior lineman Byron Hammick Jr. said. “We’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

That makes sense. After all, what the Tigers have been doing all season is get win after win in dominating fashion.

Tigard, the No. 2 team in the final OSAA power rankings, will put its perfect 11-0 season record on the line when it plays host to North Medford at 7 p.m.

“It should be a great game,” Tigard coach Craig Ruecker said. “For us, the key will be to just do our normal thing — that is to play with great speed and play extremely hard. We need to play with excitement like we have all season long.”

North Medford, the Special District 1 champion and the No. 7 team in the power rankings, brings an overall record of 10-1 into Friday’s contest. The Black Tornado lost to McNary in its season-opener and has since run off 10 straight victories, including a 21-17 win over defending 6A champion Sheldon.

“Their record speaks to how good they are,” Ruecker said. “Everyone respects North Medford football, and they beat Sheldon. I know they have a very good football team. They look to be good on offense, and great on defense.”

According to Ruecker, defense looks to be a North Medford strength.

“They’ve got an outstanding linebacker core and they have good defensive ends,” he said. “And they have an outstanding secondary. Their secondary has players who are (6-foot-2), or 6-3 and they run well.”

Ruecker also says that North Medford also boasts strong special teams play, pointing out that the Black Tornado came up with both a blocked punt and a blocked field goal in their 14-9 second-round playoff win over Oregon City.

On offense, North Medford has a balanced attack, mainly operating out of the I-formation. Although, Ruecker says, they’ll also run out of a spread formation with five receivers.

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Tigard senior defensive lineman Joe Lobbato (45) pounces on the ball after Grants Pass Cavemen quarterback Javan Appling fumbled on the opening possession of last Friday's state playoff game.“They’ll throw deep a number of times during a game,” Ruecker said.

The North Medford offense is led by junior quarterback Troy Fowler (6-0, 165 pounds). For the season, Fowler has completed 163 of 271 pass attempts for 2,358 yards with 29 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Fowler has a trio of talented receivers to throw to in junior Jared Evans (6-3, 190), senior Eugene Ellis (6-1, 190) and junior Tristen Holmes (6-2, 180). For the season, Evans has 46 receptions for 773 yards and nine touchdowns. Holmes has 35 catches for 660 yards and seven touchdowns, and Ellis has 31 catches for 431 and six scores.

Junior running back Nick Janakes (6-0, 195) is North Medford’s leading rusher with 1,148 yards and 13 touchdowns on 225 carries. He also has 23 receptions for 306 yards and four more scores.

As for the North Medford defense, it will surely be tested by a Tigard team that is scoring at a clip of 56.3 points a game.

The Tiger offense is guided by senior quarterback Jett Even (6-4, 195). For the season, Even has completed 113 of 168 passes for 2,278 yards and 27 touchdowns with just two interceptions.

Senior Manu Rasmussen (6-1, 185) is Tigard’s leading rusher with 1,673 yards on 130 carries (an average of 12.8 yards per carry). He also has 29 rushing touchdowns and a pair of receiving TDs.

Senior Daren Rodrigues (5-9, 170) is Tigard’s leading receiver with 36 catches for 922 yards and six touchdowns.

Tigard has been opportunistic on defense, coming up with 21 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries on the season.

Senior safety Bruin Campbell has been a ball hawk in the secondary for Tigard, coming up with seven interceptions on the season. Junior Sam Inos has five interceptions, and Rodrigues has picked off four passes.

Senior defensive end Nick Duron leads the Tigard pass rush with 11.5 quarterback sacks.

“We’re just clicking right now, and we’ve grown as a family,” said Hammick, who is part of Tigard’s powerful offensive line, which has paved the way for the Tigers to rush for an average of 298.8 yards a game. “We’re going to have to stay disciplined up front on defense and keep with our blocks on offense.”

The winner of Friday’s game at Tigard will face either Central Catholic or Clackamas in the semifinal round.