To say that folks in and around North Medford's football program were hungry for a momentum-changing victory would be an understatement.
The once-mighty program hasn't enjoyed a winning season since 2005, and went winless in 2011 after having to forfeit its only victory in a season the head coach didn't even finish.
So when junior quarterback Troy Fowler engineered a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown drives, including a go-ahead, 65-yard touchdown strike to Tristen Holmes with 41 seconds to go against No. 3 Sheldon, those on hand at Spiegelberg Stadium could hardly contain their excitement.
The desire to celebrate a big Black Tornado victory was so immense, North Medford High students and fans alike couldn't help but spill onto the field with the players once the final horn had sounded. The impromptu celebration of the 21-17 triumph was captured on video for my Facebook fan page (www.facebook.com/krishenryMT) and had a total reach by mid-Monday of 4,840 and counting.
Starving for something to cling to, North Medford football fans got that and more last Friday.
"I think it's huge to see the reaction we received," said second-year Black Tornado head coach Mike Mitchell. "I just love to see our fans run out on the field. They were excited, and that excited the kids, too. It was a monumental win as far as program development and what we're trying to do. These kids have worked really, really hard and when you get a payday like that, it's neat to see."
The most meaningful part was that the victory over the Irish, who had won 27 straight Southwest Conference games, was completely earned. North Medford outgained the defending Class 6A state champions 407 yards to 319, forced four turnovers and was able to overcome a blocked field goal and three turnovers of its own — one that negated a potential 1-yard TD plunge by Fowler.
"We felt it was a solid football game all the way, wire to wire," said Mitchell, whose team improved to 3-1 overall and 2-0 in SWC play.
While the offensive exploits were pivotal, North Medford's defensive effort was equally important. Sheldon entered the game averaging 474 yards and 44 points against the likes of top-10 mates Central Catholic and Southridge and SWC defensive leader South Eugene, but nothing came easy against the Black Tornado.
The Irish scored their first points after a fumble by Nick Janakes gave them the ball back on the North Medford 32-yard line. Their only other touchdown came on blown coverage — one of very few moments like that for the Tornado on Friday — when Kellen Strahm got behind the defense for a 53-yard touchdown.
Sheldon's only other score came after a 17-play drive that started at its own 28 resulted in a 24-yard field goal by Nathan Starnes early in the fourth quarter for a 17-7 advantage.
"I was really pleased with how we played on defense," said Mitchell. "We actually gave them good field position a few times and we still held up on defense. In that kind of game, your defense has to keep you in it and I thought (defensive coordinator) Chris Kincaid and our coaches put together really a good game plan and the kids executed it well. That's what gave us a chance to win in the end. You have to be in them to win them and we did a good job of giving ourselves a chance to win."
Linebacker Isaac Grether was named the Black Tornado's defensive player of the week, but there were so many other notable efforts. After Fowler was intercepted at the North 39 in the first quarter, Holmes made a key interception when he broke quickly and confidently on a Joseph Kuehn pass in the red zone and returned it to the 21-yard line.
Safety Micah Brown also played his position smartly, refusing to go for a double-move and fake by Kuehn to nab an easy interception toward the end of the first quarter at the Tornado 27-yard line. Brown made a couple other pass deflections on the night and helped the secondary by making some sure tackles, one that resulted in a fumble that Sheldon was able to maintain possession on during its final scoring drive.
Janakes, Calvinn Casaday, Hunter Hermansen, Will Spence and Skyler Black also played key roles and chipped in to help Grether, who was all over the field.
"That's the one thing," said Mitchell, "I think in this game both offensively and defensively there were guys making some exceptionally good plays for us."
Now all that needs to happen is for that to continue to carry over for the Black Tornado, with patience and daily improvement still the buzzwords coming from the coaching staff.
"What I said after the game was we keep talking about turning the corner and that was a big step toward getting everything turned around here," added Mitchell. "We could have some good things happen this year if we just pay attention to one week at a time and don't get too excited about any one win."
With that said, there was still a little room for reflection left for the Tornado players on Monday.
"We work out early in the morning and at class this morning, kids were fired up and ready to go and we had great attendance and effort," said the coach. "Winning helps that."
STUDENT-ATHLETES in Oregon can now receive a free semester-length DVD or online SAT or ACT prep program thanks to a partnership that the Oregon School Activities Association has entered into through its association with the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS).
The OSAA has been accepted into the National SAT/ACT Donation Project, which covers 100 percent of the $250 retail cost of the prep programs. In 2005, eKnowledge formed the project with support from NFL and MLB athletes and numerous corporations, foundations and not-for-profit organizations.
To request a copy of the SAT or ACT PowerPrep Program, go to www.eKnowledge.com/OregonSAA, or call 951-256-4076. The website link wasn't up and running as of Monday night but hopefully will be soon. The eKnowledge company does charge $17.55 for shipping and handling.
The programs (DVD and online format) contain 170 video lessons, hundreds of practical questions with detailed explanations, 18 quizzes and over 40 hours of class work.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry