Anything that could go wrong did go wrong for North Medford's football team Friday night at Spiegelberg Stadium.
Facing an already tough opponent in Thurston of Springfield, the Black Tornado turned in its sloppiest performance of the season in a 41-14 thrashing by the Colts.
North Medford had a chance to solidify its state playoff standing with a win over Thurston, but that opportunity slipped right through the Tornado's fingers, quite literally, in the regular-season finale. North Medford fumbled seven times — losing five — and fell too far behind after a string of 20 straight points by Thurston in the Southwest Conference clash.
"We gave them the game, pretty much," said North Medford junior quarterback Zach Tanner. "We were right with them in the beginning but a couple misplays kinda gave it to them."
The Black Tornado (4-5, 3-4 SWC) had visions of forcing a three-way tie for third place in the SWC with a win over the Colts (6-3, 5-2) and corresponding loss by South Medford to No. 1 Sheldon. Instead, North Medford was the team left on the outside looking in when it came to automatic berths in the Class 6A state playoffs.
"Obviously it's very disappointing to play like this in potentially the last game of the year here," said North Medford head coach Jeff Olson. "We didn't give ourselves a chance."
Sheldon, Roseburg, Thurston and South Medford will each receive a week off and be placed in the 32-team bracket. North Medford, as the SWC's No. 5 seed, will play host to Clackamas in a play-in game next Friday, with the winner earning one of the 11 at-large spots in the playoff bracket.
The Black Tornado opened the season with a 27-14 win at Clackamas, and the Cavaliers (0-9) have gone winless ever since.
"It was three big plays for us against them up there when we beat them at the beginning of the season," added Olson. "Obviously we've both changed a lot since then so we'll see what happens."
North Medford started the game by forcing an apparent three-and-out by Thurston, but Tornado senior Fiki Silafau fumbled the punt by Kraig Akins and Roman Iboa picked up the loose ball to allow the Colts to retain possession at the North 20-yard-line. Five plays later, Akins plowed through the defense for a 2-yard score.
Silafau helped atone for his miscue a few plays later when, as the up man in punt formation, he took a direct snap and raced 39 yards on a fourth-and-13 play. Two plays later, Tanner rolled left and scrambled for a 9-yard touchdown to tie it.
Neither team could manage much offense after that, with Thurston's top weapon being Akins' left leg. He twice punted toward Silafau, who likely was a little wary of another miscue and let the ball drop in front of him and roll toward the North end zone. The punts pinned the Tornado back at its 10 — where the first two plays involved recovered fumbles by North — and later at its 1-yard line.
Being hemmed in finally took its toll when the Colts got the ball back with a short field and needed only four plays to go 43 yards for the go-ahead score, an 11-yard run by Trevor Westover. The extra-point kick by Bryce Denney clanked off the bottom cross bar, however, to put Thurston's lead at 13-7 with 10 minutes to go in the first half.
North's next drive showed promise, starting at the Tornado 36 and gaining yardage to the Thurston 37 before Tanner fumbled a handoff attempt thanks to the Colts' defensive pressure.
A couple defensive stands had North looking to take a 13-7 deficit into the break, but Marquis Jackson converted a third-and-10 at the Thurston 29 with about one minute to go when A.J. Glander got behind the defense for a 36-yard completion. Another big pass from Jackson to Westover negated a sack by senior Roger Keller, and Westover finally capped the drive with a 2-yard score with 5.6 seconds to spare until intermission.
North Medford failed to gain a first down coming out of halftime but, again, appeared to have Thurston stopped for a three-and-out until Silafau fumbled his second punt of the night and Iboa again was there for the recovery at the Tornado 20. In three years as the Tornado's punt return, Olson said Silafau had yet to fumble until Friday night.
After a bubble screen from Chad Olson to Rhett Ybarra, Jackson came in and used a play-action fake to create time for a 2-yard scoring strike to Ybarra to make it 27-7.
Tanner finally got into a groove to bring North Medford back, keying an 81-yard drive with completions to Jeremy Scottow, Darren Cossette and Silafau. Tanner also threw in a couple nice runs on the drive, which was capped by an 8-yard connection with Silafau.
"I was just seeing how they were reacting to stuff and talking with the coaches about what was working and we were working together on play-calling a little more," Tanner said of the much-needed offensive boost. "We were going hurry up and using a faster huddle to catch them off guard."
Unfortunately for the Tornado, Thurston had an answer at every turn. Olson found Glander for a 27-yard gain on a fourth-and-11 play at the North 36 to set up Westover's third TD run.
Jackson connected with Ybarra on a 12-yard scoring strike with 8:32 to go, and North's chances at a comeback were denied on back-to-back possessions when the ball was pried away after completions to Scottow and J.J. Browne-Moore.
"I guess you've got to give credit to Thurston, they got the ball on the ground and they took advantage of it," Olson said of the Tornado's season-high in fumbles.
Senior Brian Reese, who started the year as North's returning quarterback but was injured in the second week of action, returned to action Friday. Reese played primarily at safety and also some at receiver. He moved to quarterback with about 41/2 minutes to play and led the Tornado's final drive, completing 3 of 5 passes for 46 yards.
Prior to that, however, Tanner was efficient at the helm and completed 10 of 22 passes for 117 yards. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder also ran nine times for 38 yards.
North's bread-and-butter running game, however, was limited to only 139 yards on 25 carries thanks to the defensive exploits of Akins, Austin Jaros and Anthony Tobar. Jesse Hornbrook, already over 1,000 yards for the season, managed 56 yards on 13 carries.
At Spiegelberg Stadium
Thurston 7 13 14 7 —41
North Medford 7 0 7 0 —14
Thu — Akins 2 run (Denney kick)
NM — Tanner 9 run (Cossette kick)
Thu — Westover 11 run (kick failed)
Thu — Westover 2 run (Denney kick)
Thu — Ybarra 2 pass from Jackson (Denney kick)
NM — Silafau 8 pass from Tanner (Cossette kick)
Thu — Westover 9 run (Denney kick)
Thu — Ybarra 12 pass from Jackson (Denney kick)
First Downs 12 14
Rushes-Yards 44-176 25-139
Passing Yards 182 163
Comp-Att-Int 18-25-0 13-27-0
Total Yards 358 302
Punts 6-39.3 6-29.8
Fumbles-lost 2-0 7-5
Penalties-yards 3-15 7-60
Thurston — Westover 11-56, Jackson 13-91, Halcott 10-24, Olson 4-(-23), Akins 1-2, Livingstone 1-13, Goddard 1-(-2), Weick 1-14, Watson 1-6, Chappell 1-(-5).
North Medford — Hornbrook 13-56, Tanner 9-38, Saldana 2-6, Silafau 1-39.
Thurston — Olson 9-13-0 103, Jackson 8-9-0 66, Halcott 0-1-0 0, Weick 1-2-0 13.
North Medford — Tanner 10-22-0 117, Reese 3-5-0 46.
Thurston — Glander 3-67, Ybarra 4-49, Halcott 3-17, Westover 3-13, Chappell 2-7, Drake 1-5, Clawson 1-11, Iboa 1-13.
North Medford — Scottow 5-76, Silafau 4-32, Brown-Moore 2-29, Cossette 1-6, Hornbrook 1-20.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail email@example.com