North Medford coach Nathan Chin has opened up the offense with quarterback Traeger Healy (2). (Photo by Captured 541)
North Medford coach Nathan Chin has opened up the offense with quarterback Traeger Healy (2). (Photo by Captured 541)

A rocky season-opening loss at Tigard is a fading memory for North Medford, which has won five in a row and climbed to No. 9 in the OSAAtoday 6A football coaches poll.

Friday, the Black Tornado will get a good idea of how far it has come when it visits No. 8 Sheldon in a pivotal Special District 1 game. North Medford (5-1, 4-0) and Sheldon (4-2, 4-0) are tied for first place with No. 6 South Salem (6-0, 4-0).

“You talk about process and one week at a time, and this is the next step,” Black Tornado coach Nathan Chin said. “We're on a climb, and this is our task this week.”

Sheldon, the 6A runner-up last season, also is trending up. The Irish have won four in a row after losing to Mililani (Hawaii) and No. 1 West Linn by a combined 78-6.

“It just took them a little bit to find their rhythm,” Chin said. “Obviously they found it and they're playing super well. They've got some talented kids, as always.”

Since losing to Tigard 27-7, North Medford is averaging 40.2 points per game. The offense has flourished with sophomore quarterback Traeger Healy, who became the starter in Week 2 and has completed 73.8 percent of his passes for 1,356 yards and 14 touchdowns with two interceptions.

“We've matured a lot offensively,” Chin said. “I feel like we're settling in on what we're doing. Traeger is getting more comfortable back there. Our offensive line, we kind of threw them a curveball with being a little more spread than we have in the past. So they've had to adjust, and they're finally feeling that rhythm, too.”

North Medford has opened up its passing game from last season, when it averaged 24.3 points and lost at Lake Oswego 28-13 in the first round of the playoffs.

The Black Tornado gains 61 percent of its yards through the air, getting steady production from 6-4 senior tight end AJ Pugliano (37 catches, 452 yards, seven touchdowns) and 6-2 senior receiver Connor Cesaro (25 catches, 355 yards, two touchdowns).

“We really had been like a Big Ten offense,” Chin said. “Coming off the Lake Oswego loss last year, we had to be able to throw the ball if we were to advance anywhere in the playoffs. Traeger's doing a really good job of mixing targets. We throw a lot of perimeter screen stuff, and he throws the ball well down the field.”

Senior Jeremiah Robbins, who started the season at quarterback, is flourishing in his new role at running back. Robbins has rushed for a team-high 380 yards and seven touchdowns while sharing the load with junior Landyn Meeker (374 yards, four touchdowns).

“They're very similar. They're both strong backs,” Chin said. “Landyn's a little more of a bruiser. It's kind of nice to have them both.”

Pugliano, who has committed to Oregon as a tight end, also stands out on the defensive line, collecting 13 tackles for loss. In last week's 30-9 win at Roseburg, however, he left in the second quarter with an apparent leg injury. His status for Friday is in question.

“We'll see how things go this week,” Chin said. “He just kind of pulled up lame. So we're playing it safe. He brings a level to us as a program in a variety of ways, not just what he does on the field.”

Last year, North Medford took a four-game winning streak into the Sheldon game but lost 42-6. The Irish haven't been as dominant this year after graduating a stellar senior class, but are starting to put the pieces together.

Senior quarterback Colby Parosa, who took over for a three-year starter in Brock Thomas, has passed for five touchdowns and run for six scores. Junior running back Teimana Tuioti (6-0, 230), who has rushed for six scores, is a physical force.

“He's just stout, strong, quick and has good vision,” Chin said. “You've got to make sure you get secure tackles when it comes to him because he's so strong.”

The game is especially critical considering neither team faces South Salem this season. Each of the 10 teams in the district are scheduled to play seven league games, with the Saxons skipping North Medford and Sheldon.

Other top games in Week 7:


5A No. 10 McKay (5-1, 5-1 Mid-Willamette Conference) at 5A No. 2 Silverton (6-0, 6-0), 7 p.m.: McKay, vastly improved after going 3-6 last year, takes on the powerful Foxes, who have won every game by at least 26 points. McKay's Joel Sanchez leads the conference with 748 rushing yards.

2A No. 9 Willamina (5-1, 3-1 Tri-River Conference) at 2A co-No. 10 Gervais (5-1, 2-1), 7 p.m.: The teams try to stay alive in the Tri-River title chase behind Regis and Blanchet Catholic, who play for first place Friday. Gervais will try to slow down Willamina's Jacob Hadley, who has rushed for a state-leading 1,475 yards and 28 touchdowns.

1A-8 No. 4 St. Paul (5-1, 3-0 SD3) at 1A-8 No. 7 Perrydale (6-0, 3-0), 7 p.m.: Perrydale hasn't defeated the Buckaroos since the 2011 playoffs, losing to them last year 52-0 in the regular-season finale and 62-6 in the state quarterfinals. St. Paul's George Pohlschneider and Perrydale's Brody Burr both passed for three touchdowns last week.


Sunset (3-3, 1-1 Metro League) at 6A No. 10 Jesuit (2-4, 2-0), 7 p.m.: The Crusaders, who have won 13 league games in a row since losing to Sunset 31-14 in the COVID-shortened season, need a win over the Apollos to set up a potential first-place showdown at Mountainside next week. Sunset, which lost to Mountainside 21-16 last week, can get back in the hunt with a victory.

6A No. 4 Lake Oswego (5-1, 1-1 Three Rivers League) at 6A No. 5 Tualatin (5-1, 1-1), 7 p.m.: The teams' only losses have come against No. 1 West Linn, the Lakers falling 49-14 in Week 5 and the Timberwolves taking it on the chin 37-0 last week. Tualatin will try to bounce back after being held to 37 total yards in that loss. Lake Oswego beat the Timberwolves 35-31 last year.

Oregon City (5-1, 1-1 Three Rivers) at 6A No. 7 Lakeridge (5-1, 1-1), 7 p.m.: Last year, Oregon City beat the Pacers 29-28 in a league game but Lakeridge got payback with a 35-14 win over the Pioneers in the 6A Columbia Cup quarterfinals. To have a chance Friday, Oregon City must contend with Lakeridge star receiver Joey Olsen, who had three touchdown catches in a win over Tigard last week.

4A co-No. 8 Junction City (5-1, 3-0 SD3) at 4A No. 6 Cascade (5-1, 3-0), 7 p.m.: The Tigers and Cougars are tied for first place with No. 4 Marist Catholic, which plays host to Cascade next week before visiting Junction City in the final regular-season game. Junction City routed Cascade 35-12 last year, when the Cougars finished 4-6.

3A co-No. 4 Dayton (6-0, 4-0 SD2) at 3A No. 9 Santiam Christian (5-2, 4-0), 7 p.m.: Sole possession of first place is on the line. Dayton ran all over previously unbeaten Scio in a 36-12 win last week, getting 184 yards and four touchdowns from Zach Smith (1,182 rushing yards for season). In 2022, Santiam Christian's defense stopped the Pirates to win 14-6.

3A No. 6 Lakeview (6-0, 6-0 SD3) at 3A No. 2 Cascade Christian (6-0, 6-0), 7 p.m.: Reigning state champion Cascade Christian goes for its 20th consecutive victory in the first-place showdown against the Honkers. The game matches the top two defenses in 3A in the Challengers and Lakeview, who have allowed 26 and 34 points, respectively. Cascade Christian won 35-0 last year.

2A No. 4 Regis (6-0, 3-0 Tri-River Conference) at 2A No. 8 Blanchet Catholic (5-1, 3-0), 7 p.m.: The winner takes over first place in the tough Tri-River. Blanchet Catholic has made giant strides after going 0-8 last season, losing at Regis 55-7. The Cavaliers have to deal with Regis quarterback Kollin Schumacher, who has thrown for 1,846 yards and 31 touchdowns.

1A-6 No. 1 Prairie City/Burnt River (5-0, 3-0 SD1) at 1A-6 No. 7 South Wasco County (5-1, 3-0), 2 p.m.: The final regular-season game for both teams will have seeding implications in the SD1 playoffs. Prairie City is looking to avenge a 44-21 loss last year.

North Lake (4-1, 4-1 SD2 South) at 1A-6 No. 8 Elkton (5-0, 5-0), 3 p.m.: Elkton, tied for first place in SD2 with No. 2 Powers, needs a win to set up a big game with the Cruisers next week. North Lake, which has won four in a row since losing to Powers 58-20, could throw a wrench into things.