Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
CENTRAL POINT — As the North Medford football team began to cool off, Crater started to heat up.
And when their tilt was all said and done on Friday night, the Comets emerged as one of the hottest squads in the Southwest Conference (Sheldon being that other hot team).
Crater rallied before steamrolling the Black Tornado 46-12 at Dutch Meyer Field in league action.
The Comets (3-2, 3-0 SWC) will next take on the Irish (5-0, 3-0) in Eugene next Friday in a meeting of the last two undefeated programs in the conference.
The upset that began to brew on Friday went cold a half too early for North Medford (1-4, 0-3), which could not keep up in the second half after earning a 12-7 lead at one point.
"They started running out of gas in the first half toward the second quarter and with our conditioning we kept going," said Crater's Blake Fahndrich.
Crater quarterback Chase Mackey and receiver Dakota Massey played key roles in the first half as North put its best foot forward.
That pair, along with their teammates, opened up the floodgates in a lopsided second half that saw the Comets take advantage of just about every opportunity that came their way.
Mackey finished 9-for-12 passing for 216 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 54 yards on 11 carries.
"I think our kids answered the bell pretty well," said Crater head football coach John Beck, who once coached at North Medford. "I think they knew they didn't play very well the first half and they came out and set the tone right away in the second half."
After Evan Hisey put the Black Tornado on the scoreboard first with a 41-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter, the Comets made a crucial push. Kory Bennett returned the kickoff to the Crater 40-yard line, and then Mackey connected with Massey on a 50-yard pass. Derrick Turituri finished off the drive on the first play of the second quarter, rumbling in a 3-yard score.
North regained its lead when Nick Janakes exploded for a 70-yard touchdown haul from Troy Fowler with 10:58 to go in the second period.
A couple of unfruitful drives later, Mackey found Massey for a 41-yard gain that put the Comets at the North 15 with a few minutes left before intermission. On fourth-and-goal, Mackey hit Taran Lewis for an 8-yard TD that gave Crater the lead for good.
"I just wanted to get the job done and do what I had to do," Massey said.
The Comets, who lead 18-12 at halftime after Austin Crider booted in a 43-yard field goal, poured on 28 unanswered points in the second half.
"I thought we played really well, but we have a tendency to have a crucial point where we stop playing," North Medford first-year coach Mike Mitchell said. "That is what we did.
"What I'm trying to do is eliminate excuses. (Crater) was tired, too. We have to learn that that is just another excuse."
A Black Tornado fumble — the first turnover of the contest — in the third quarter led to Carlos Higuera's 5-yard scoring sprint.
On the ensuing North possession, North starting quarterback Fowler was immediately picked off by linebacker Ty Wolf and — on the very next play — Wolf scored on a 22-yard run.
Just like that, Crater led 32-22 with 2:04 remaining in the third.
Crater defensive back Davey McCollum intercepted a Fowler pass with 12 seconds left in the frame that set up Mackey's 53-yard touchdown pass to Fahndrich on the first play of the fourth quarter. Fahndrich dodged multiple defenders in an electric effort after the reception.
Higuera added a 23-yard scoring rush in the fourth.
Wolf ran the ball eight times for 63 yards and Bennett four times four 41 yards for Crater, which outgained North 431-303. Fahndrich came up with two catches for 67 yards and Bennett three receptions for 47 yards.
"With our conditioning our offense seems to keep going and going," Bennett said. "We never seem to get tired. ... We could've gone another two quarters if we wanted to."
Hisey had 92 rushing yards on 17 carries for North.
"Give (North) credit," Beck said. "They had a really good scheme offensively and I was really, really impressed with North Medford. I think we wore them down with our experience."
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email email@example.com