Big first half propels North to 35-21 win
After taking it on the chin for two weeks in row, North Medford resembled the team that spent a couple of weeks ranked among Oregon's top-10 prep football teams Friday night at Spiegelberg Stadium.
North took advantage of everything the Crook County Cowboys handed it in the first half, then held on for a 35-21 non-conference victory.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Tornado (5-3) and spoiled former North assistant coach Steve Turner's homecoming visit.
We knew (Turner) would have his team pumped up, North quarterback Nate Mayben said. But we just needed to come out and play a good game.
The Tornado took advantage of two fumbles and a big fourth-down stop at midfield to take a 35-7 lead at intermission.
That first half was one of the best we've played all year, Mayben said. We knew we had to do something to turn things around. We needed something like that to get us going.
North rushed for 220 yards and Mayben passed for 132 more as the Tornado piled up a 352-229 advantage in total offense.
Tailbacks Steve DeClerck and Phil Oullette combined 166 yards and four touchdowns.
DeClerck returned the opening kickoff 39 yards to the Crook County 44, then packed the ball seven of eight plays for 39 yards as the Tornado drove to pay dirt on its first possession.
DeClerck followed Kenny Halpin's block on a sweep around the left side from 6 yards out for the first TD. Kelly Brown followed with the first of five PAT kicks to make it 7-0.
North battled poor field position the rest of the first quarter, but in the space of less than five minutes, the Tornado scored three second-quarter touchdowns to open up a 28-0 advantage.
They got the momentum going in the second quarter, Turner said. They're a pretty darn good football team. They had all their kids back tonight and we gave them some opportunities.
North came up with a big stop on the third play of the second quarter when Brent Rhodes and John Bracken stuffed Cody Gibney on a fourth-and-inches play at midfield.
Three plays later, including two Mayben completions, the Tornado was on top 14-0.
Mayben got flushed out of the pocket, but bought enough time by rolling to the right sideline before launching a 28-yard scoring pass to Jim Pickrel.
I was supposed to hit Kenny (Halpin) in the flat, but their end came up so quick that I never had time to look at him, said Mayben. I just scrambled outside. I couldn't find Kenny, but I saw Pickrel in back of end zone and he started taking off to one side. It looked good to me.
On the next play from scrimmage, the ball spurted out of Crook County quarterback Dustin Moon's hands and Diego Apodaca corralled it for the Tornado at the Cowboy 11. Three plays later, DeClerck hammered over from three yards out.
North went on another lightning-quick 50-yard drive, with Oullette breaking a tackle at the line of scrimmage, and then putting a nice juke on the last defender 10 yards up field en route to a 29-yard TD scamper.
Crook County regrouped and drove 73 yards in nine plays with Moon cruising into the end zone on a fourth-and-goal bootleg from the NM 8 with 2:08 left in the half to make it 28-7.
But North had the final say in the half, taking advantage of another long return by DeClerck and then moving 62 yards in eight plays.
On the final play of the half from the CC 11, Mayben hooked up with DeClerck on a screen to the left sideline. DeClerck got a couple nifty blocks and then accelerated.
It was a different screen than we had run earlier, DeClerck said. Their guys didn't read it and everybody executed well. Matt Haight got a pretty good block on the play and down by the end zone I dove in to get in.
It didn't seem like much at the time, but the late score provided North with a cushion it needed later on.
The Cowboys developed stickier fingers and slipped more tackles as the game wore on.
We're a momentum team, Turner said. Once we got some momentum, we played a lot better.
Cory George fell on DeClerck's fumble at the North 23 and two plays later, Gibney dashed 27 yards on a counter. Then Gary Owen snagged Mayben's errant toss on the next play and returned it 30 yards to the Tornado 24.
Three plays later, Jamar Adams broke free on a delay around the left side for a 25-yard score.
Another fumble gave Crook County a chance to draw closer, but the Tornado defense was unyielding.
We needed a big play, but we couldn't get it, Turner said.
After the past couple of weeks, that was fine with the Tornado.
It was good to bounce back after playing Grants Pass and Marshfield, DeClerck said.
With a week left in the regular season, the Tornado needs a win over Eagle Point and perhaps a lucky coin flip to reach the state playoffs for the first time since 1995.
We'll just have to play hard, DeClerck said, and see what happens.