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North manhandles Crater

Mail Tribune / Andrew Mariman

The Black Tornado defense stymies the Crater rushing attack in a blowout victory

The Southern Oregon Conference season began with a whimper for the North Medford football team, but the Black Tornado is determined to go out with a bang.

In a 45-0 homecoming thumping of Crater on Friday night at Spiegelberg Stadium, North Medford played spectacular special teams, determined defense and efficient offense.

After an 0-2 start to its SOC slate, the Tornado (5-2 overall, 3-2 SOC) has outscored Klamath Union, Ashland and the Comets (1-6, 1-4) by a combined 152-30 count to resurrect postseason hopes.

"It's looking good," said senior offensive guard and defensive tackle Dan Johnson, who was happy to return to the field for the first time since suffering a knee injury at Roseburg on Sept. 21. "Our defense played well. ... We executed real well on offense, and we've been missing that a little bit this year. It's encouraging."

North closes the regular season by playing host to Eagle Point then battling South Medford, and it may need victories in both to secure one of the SOC's three state playoff berths.

But the way the Tornado has been rolling lately, wins haven't been hard to find.

"We're feeling pretty confident," said senior quarterback/safety Travis Poulton, who completed 7 of 8 passes in the first half and finished 10-for-17 for 197 yards and a touchdown.

"We're coming off three huge wins. We feel like we've got things going offensively, and we're gonna be ready for Eagle Point next week."

The Tornado buried Crater early, scoring 14 points in the opening five minutes and building a 28-0 edge by the conclusion of the first quarter.

Senior co-captain Alan Borelli's blocked punt on the opening series of the game gave North first-and-goal at the Comets' 6-yard line. Two plays later, Poulton kept for a 3-yard score.

Crater went three-and-out on its ensuing series, and the punt traveled just 27 yards before falling out of bounds at the Comets' own 38.

Again, the Tornado needed just three plays to score, this touchdown coming on senior tailback Manny Alegria's 15-yard burst.

On North's next possession, Alegria added the second of his three scores by nabbing a Poulton screen pass and weaving 60 yards down the left sideline to make it 21-0 at 2:24 of the first.

Crater junior quarterback D.J. Beatty, hounded throughout the night by the Tornado defense and sacked five times, tossed an interception on the Comets' next series. Senior linebacker Josh Whitaker returned his pick 32 yards for a 28-0 North lead with 1:16 still to go in the quarter.

It became 31-0 at the half when junior placekicker Shawn Hale booted a 24-yard field goal with less than one second remaining in the second quarter.

Alegria's 10-yard rumble in the last second of the third quarter made it 38-0.

And junior Tyler Engle bolted 76 yards with a punt return - the last leg of which was set up by senior Kyle Jensen's punishing sideline block - to end the scoring early in the fourth.

"This season, I've had like four 50-yard returns of punts, so I knew (a TD) was coming," said Engle, who also had returns of 33 and 31 yards Friday. "I knew I would get it sooner or later."

First-year Tornado head coach John Beck knows his squad is peaking in all facets at the opportune time.

Offensively, Poulton is improving his quarterback play every week, and Alegria has exploded for 12 touchdowns in the last three games.

"Travis just played a fabulous football game," Beck said. "He just keeps getting better and better and better.

"Manny's been playing good, and our perimeter and line blocking tonight was outstanding."

Defensively, North limited Crater to just 85 yards in total offense Friday, including 50 yards rushing in 25 attempts for Comets senior tailback Dan Casey, who entered the contest averaging more than 100 yards per outing.

"We heard all week how good their offense was," Beck said. "To stop them like that, I'm pleasantly surprised. The defense accepted the challenge."

The special teams also continued to dominate, blocking a punt and contributing at least one TD return for the second consecutive week.

"We work so hard on special teams, and they've really started paying off," Beck said.

North manhandles Crater