After poor air conditions forced North Medford to relocate its scheduled home football game against the visiting Democrats, the Black Tornado didn’t allow the change to alter its focus and built a 21-0 lead in the opening five minutes.
“That was disappointing, our kids really wanted to play at Spiegelberg Stadium,” said first-year North Medford head coach Steve Turner of the late change. “We haven’t been there all year or even practiced there. They were really excited to play at home in front of our home fans, so we’ve got our fingers crossed we can play there next week (against Bend).”
“As a whole, though, I was really pleased with all of the kids,” he added. “When you’re ready to play at home and they tell you at 10 o’clock in the morning you’ve got to get on the bus and travel three hours, the kids handled that really well. I was impressed by the way they approached things, and that’s really cool to see.”
Senior Eli Spence again got North Medford (2-0) off to a fast start when he took the opening kickoff on the run at the 25-yard line, dipped to the right sideline and outraced everyone to the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown.
“It just happened so fast,” said Turner. “We came out hard again and I was happy. That was a great way to start, obviously.”
Things got even better moments later after denying the Portland-based Democrats (0-2) on their first series as North Medford unleashed its passing game behind Brennan Stults. The 6-foot-2, 173-pound junior connected with Anthony Taylor for a 20-yard gain and later dropped in a perfect fade pass to the corner of the end zone that was hauled in by a closely defended Devyn Grafton.
“We went into the game knowing that last week we didn’t throw it much because we hadn’t had a chance to work on it being inside,” said Turner. “We know that we need to be able to throw the football if we want to be really successful and we worked on it pretty hard this week and I thought we looked pretty good tonight.”
North Medford went up 21-0 when a shotgun snap got through the hands of Jefferson quarterback Trey Martin and rolled toward the goal line, where senior Juan Velazquez scooped up the fumble for a touchdown. It was the first of six takeaways by the Black Tornado on the night.
The lone major miscue by North Medford’s defense came on the ensuing possession, when Jefferson’s Damir Collins took a handoff to the right and raced untouched into the end zone for a 75-yard score to make it 21-8 after a two-point conversion run by Ubedei McGautha.
“Defensively, we made some mistakes early and we corrected them,” said Turner. “They hit that long run when it was 21-0 and went back to doing things correctly after shoring up some stuff.”
With Jefferson’s focus in the backfield on Spence, who ran for 343 yards and five TDs last week, Stults took advantage with a good play-action pass to Taylor for a 28-yard score after the senior receiver had gotten behind the last defender. That score made it 28-8 with 6:09 to go still in the first quarter.
“If you’re going to play us the way they were playing us,” said Turner, “we’ve got to be able to compete those throws. They had eight and nine guys up there trying to stop Eli.”
Even with that strategy, Jefferson still wasn’t able to stop Spence, who finished with around 175 rushing yards and two TDs in the first half and didn’t take the field in the second half.
On a handful of carries, Spence never actually hit the ground, he merely had his progress stopped by a host of defenders to force a whistle to halt play.
“He’s tough to stop,” said Turner of the 6-5, 217-pounder. “That’s the thing with him, you put that many people close to the line of scrimmage and he’s going to pop it. He had a couple long runs tonight.”
An interception by Josh Baptiste and a 35-yard connection from Stults to Grafton set up Spence’s first offensive touchdown, a 1-yard ramming effort behind senior center Tony Bench.
After Thomas Bates pried the ball loose and Baptiste recovered to halt a promising drive by the Democrats to end the first quarter, Spence put his team in scoring position with a 52-yard run and Baptiste did the finishing honors with a 4-yard run up the middle to make it 42-8 two minutes into the second quarter.
A 75-yard run by Spence later set up his own 5-yard score, and an interception by sophomore Luke Pugliano after he jumped a route by a Jefferson receiver put the Tornado in position to score again at the Democrats’ 34-yard line. Three plays later, Dallin England burst up the middle for a 31-yard TD to make it 56-8 with 2?1/2 minutes to go in the first half.
Fumble recoveries by sophomore Levi Griffin and Taylor, on a ball pried loose by junior Jett Carpenter, helped North Medford keep Jefferson off the scoreboard for the remainder of the half.
With a running clock and against North Medford’s second unit, Jefferson was able to tack on a TD pass by McGautha to Tyson Booze in the third quarter, but the Black Tornado’s junior varsity squad came on in the fourth and held the Democrats scoreless while mounting their own scoring drive, capped by a 14-yard run by sophomore Garrett Henderson.
“We played a lot of guys in that second and third quarter that were varsity kids and dedicated the fourth for our JV,” said Turner, “and it was really nice to see those JV kids take the ball down there and score.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry