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...
A lot of optimism, a little good fortune and an infinite amount of trust.
With those three elements, North Medford sent shockwaves through the prep football scene Friday night at Spiegelberg Stadium.
Black Tornado junior receiver Tristen Holmes got behind his defender and quarterback Troy Fowler hit him in stride deep down the sideline for a go-ahead 65-yard touchdown with 41 seconds to go to vault North Medford to a stunning 21-17 upset of No. 3 Sheldon on Friday.
Once a last-gasp 38-yard heave to the end zone by Sheldon quarterback Joseph Kuehn was turned away as time expired, pandemonium struck Spiegelberg Stadium as fans and players alike stormed the field in celebration.
"I honestly feel like I'm in a dream right now, I can't believe it," Fowler said surrounded by the post-game hysteria. "But we've got to get back to work on Sunday and focus toward Crater. We need to not act like this is the Super Bowl, even though it feels like it. We just need to go back and get to work because this one's over now."
Fowler's balance of excitement and expectation was echoed throughout the Black Tornado locker room, where players have found the fortitude to believe in themselves even when faced with long odds like the ones brought forth by the defending Class 6A state champions.
"I knew that we had it in us," said Holmes, who had two catches for 78 yards. "We just came out and executed and got the win out of it."
Fowler passed for a pair of touchdowns in the final 6 1/2 minutes of the game to help North Medford erase a 17-7 deficit and post its first-ever Southwest Conference victory over the visiting Irish.
The loss was only the third in SWC history for Sheldon, which dropped a pair of games in 2008 to Grants Pass and South Medford but has otherwise cruised through the conference. The Irish (2-2, 1-1 SWC) had won 29 straight SWC games entering Friday's contest, while the Black Tornado (3-1, 2-0) hadn't beaten another conference foe beyond South Eugene since 2010 until last week's win at Grants Pass.
"I was real happy with how we played," said second-year Tornado head coach Mike Mitchell. "I felt it was a solid, good win. There was nothing flaky about it."
North Medford forced four first-half turnovers by Sheldon and outgained the Irish 407 yards to 319 overall in a game that was tied 7-all at intermission thanks to a determined 1-yard effort by Nick Janakes on the final play.
Prior to Janakes' touchdown, North Medford had dominated possession of the ball in the first half but had nothing to show for it thanks to a blocked field goal and a pair of red-zone defensive stands by Sheldon.
"These guys have been playing pretty resilient and they came back and got it," said Mitchell. "I think it was real important to get that one before the half because this kind of game was going to be a dogfight, no matter how we got out of it."
While that scoring play sent the Black Tornado into the locker room on a high note, Sheldon head coach Lane Johnson said it was obvious his team was playing with fire on Friday.
"We talked about it all week that they would hang with us as long as we allowed them to," said Johnson. "Us turning the ball over, it's been kind of our Achilles' heel the whole year. We turned it over four times in the first half, and we're not good enough to turn the ball over that many times and beat a team like North Medford. They were spunky and they made plays. I tip my cap to them, I really do, they did a great job."