Alegria, North ground the Eagles
Mail Tribune / Jim Craven
North Medford put the "better late than never" theory to test Friday night at Spiegelberg Stadium.
Even though opening kickoff with Eagle Point was at 7:30 p.m., the Black Tornado didn't start playing until the second-half kickoff at 8:55 p.m.
Fortunately for North, the slow start didn't cost the Tornado as it scored 17 straight points to open the third quarter and never looked back for a 36-15 win over a game group of Eagles.
"We did some good things, but we got into some situations where they have more speed than we did and that became apparent pretty quick," said Eagle Point coach Mike Johnston.
One of those situations was following the second-half kickoff.
Coming out of a locker room sure to need another coat of paint, the Black Tornado walked with a purpose for the first time all night. Faced with a first down on its own 27, the pumped-up North squad still couldn't have envisioned what was about to take place.
"The team came out pretty flat in the first half, and we all knew it," said North senior tailback Manny Alegria. "We had a good chat in the locker room with coaches pumping us up and getting us ready for the second half. We just had to step it up, and we did."
All it took was a simple pitch left by Travis Poulton and a cutback by Alegria. And once Alegria turned the corner, so did the Tornado (6-2 overall, 4-2 SOC).
"At halftime I was infuriated," said Alegria. "We knew something had to happen on offense and something had to click and it finally did. I turned the corner and there it was. A couple jukes and it was just run for the end zone."
Seventy-three yards later Alegria had his first touchdown of the game, but more importantly, he gave North the shot in the arm it needed.
Shawn Hale added a 33-yard field goal and Poulton connected with Brian Weeks for a 61-yard score in the third quarter to turn a 13-8 halftime lead into a 30-8 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
Even when the Eagles (2-6, 1-5 SOC) broke through for a 66-yard scoring pass from Robert Slayton to Andrew Tree in the fourth, North had an answer as Justin MacLauchlan returned the ensuing kickoff 86 yards for a touchdown.
"That second half is how we play," said Alegria, who finished with 196 yards on 18 carries. "We knew what was wrong and the changes we needed to make. Once we did that, we played like the Tornado can play."
The only setback North suffered in the second half was when senior lineman Dan Johnson dislocated his right knee cap. Trainers were able to pop it back in place but Johnson was on crutches after the game and in considerable pain.
Even though the second half belonged to North, the Eagles were the ones flying high in the first half.
Eagle Point drove to North's 20 on its opening drive, only to be thwarted when Weeks intercepted a Slayton pass in the end zone.
The Tornado drove 80 yards in 10 plays to score first, with MacLauchlan taking a screen pass from Poulton 26 yards to paydirt.
Undaunted, the Eagles forced a fumble on North's next possession that was recovered by Andy Fleetwood on North's 45.
What ensued was a methodical drive that featured the running of Victor Shelton, Slayton and Chris Boyd. With no play earning more than 8 yards, the Eagles marched downfield in 14 plays. Slayton capped the drive with a 4-yard keeper around the right corner.
To mix things up, Eagle Point used a direct snap to Slayton on the point-after attempt, and he drilled a pass to Dan Hodgkins to give the Eagles an 8-7 lead with 9:02 to play in the half.
"We thought we could run the ball on them some," said Johnston. "We would have liked to be a little more balanced. I think we could be a real good running team if we could open up a little bit, but we were having a little difficulty doing that so we decided to concentrate on what we do best, and that's running the football."
North answered with a drive of its own, shrugging off a sack by Christian Mannenbach to go 93 yards in 10 plays for the go-ahead touchdown. The big play of the drive came when Poulton hit Weeks for a 33-yard gain on third-and-14 at the Tornado 14-yard-line. Poulton eventually capped the drive with a 7-yard scramble. His two-point conversion attempt was deflected, leaving the North lead at 13-8.
The Tornado had one more chance to put points on the board prior to halftime, but Sam Dodenhoff busted through and blocked Hale's 30-yard field-goal attempt as time expired.
"Sam's played well for us all year," said Johnston. "He's the real leader of our defense, and he played well again. We expect him to do good things, and he just about always comes through. He makes plays for four quarters."
North Medford will be in search of several players to step up like that next Friday when the Tornado takes on rival South Medford at Spiegelberg for a potential berth in the state playoffs.
With the Panthers' win over Grants Pass on Friday, the only way North can guarantee a spot in the playoffs is if it can beat South (5-1 SOC) next Friday and have Eagle Point beat the Cavemen (4-2 SOC). If North and Grants Pass both win, forcing a three-way tie with South, a coin flip will decide the SOC's No. 2 and — representatives.
If South wins, North becomes something it doesn't want - a team that goes from the state championship game to not even making the playoffs.
"We just want that playoff spot," said Alegria. "We want to go into the playoffs and show what we've got. We know we're a talented team, and we have good team chemistry.
"We're going to prepare harder than we've ever done (for South). It's definitely going to be a good game. We're going to be ready for them."
Just as long as they get the game's starting time correct.