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Tornado wins wild one

Bruhns' TD pass in final seconds leads North Medford over South Medford

North Medford High football coach Rod Rumrey summed it up best: It's better to be lucky than good.

Rumrey uttered those words a few minutes after watching North Medford quarterback Darren Bruhns hook up with tight end Eric Stroh on a desperation 8-yard touchdown pass with 11 seconds left in the game. That score lifted the Black Tornado to a wild 20-19 victory over South Medford in the 20th annual Black and Blue Game before a jam-packed crowd of about 8,000 at Spiegelberg Stadium on Friday night.

With two South Medford linemen hanging onto his legs and about to pull him down, Bruhns somehow remained upright just long enough to launch his final pass. He aimed it for wide receiver Charlie Bufalino in the right corner of the end zone, but Stroh, who was running a seam route up the middle, snagged it instead.

My arm got hit and the ball went to Stroh, Bruhns said with a grin. The football gods were with us.

North Medford ran its record to 3-3 overall and 2-1 in the Southern Oregon Conference, while South Medford fell to 1-4 and 1-1.

— Trailing 19-14, North Medford looked to be in big trouble after it drove to the South Medford 3-yard line with three minutes left in the game but failed to score. Panthers rover back Ben Weaver made two big plays to thwart the drive, throwing Tornado tailback Rece Peden for a 6-yard loss and then deflecting a Bruhns pass on fourth down.

South Medford took over on downs at its own 9 and, with tailback Dan Welcome slamming the ball between the tackles, made two first downs and advanced the ball to the Panther 44. They could have killed the clock with one more first down but came up a yard short and elected to punt with 58 seconds left in the game.

South Medford punter Tommy George failed to handle the snap, however, and was buried at the Panther 28.

Given new life, Bruhns led the Tornado to the winning touchdown. He passed to A.J. Nichols for 11 yards and to Bufalino for 14 prior to hitting Stroh for the game-winner.

This is the best feeling I've ever had in my life, Stroh said.

North Medford ruled the first half. It capitalized on an Adam Stroh interception of a George pass late in the first quarter to drive 43 yards and take a 7-0 lead on a 6-yard run by tailback Ryan Folsom.

Then, early in the second period, the Tornado made it 14-0 on a 14-yard touchdown burst up the middle by Peden. Bruhns set up the score with a nifty 35-yard run on a quarterback keeper and a 25-yard pass to wide receiver Troy Driskell on a crossing pattern.

North Medford appeared to have the game under control until punter Tyler Lake failed to get a kick off early in the third quarter. He ran to the right sideline and had the ball stripped out of his hands by South Medford's Rick Imhausen. Ben Koziol, the Panthers' star 265-pound senior tackle, snatched it out of midair and rumbled 44 yards to pay dirt.

George's PAT kick was good and suddenly, the Panthers were within 14-7.

The ball was just sitting there and I took it, said Koziol.

Said Rumrey: That play was a huge momentum shift. It fired them up and seemed to take away some of our confidence.

It didn't hurt the Panthers that quarterback Kyle Singler began to find his rhythm. The 6-foot-8 junior, who's been hampered by a knee injury this fall, made his season debut at quarterback in the second quarter.

Singler led South Medford on an 18-play, 60-yard drive late in the first half that ended in a missed field goal. However, he never found his rhythm until the second half, when he passed for 138 of his 181 yards.

Singler's 12-yard touchdown pass to Michael Harthun on a slant pattern with 1:57 left in the third quarter drew the Panthers within 14-13. They failed to tie the game on the PAT when Weaver mishandled the snap.

The Panthers weren't finished, however. On their next possession, Singler hit wide receiver Jared Adamson on a 74-yard catch-and-run play that advanced the ball to the North Medford 6.

One play later, Singler rolled into the end zone on a 1-yard sneak that gave South Medford a 19-14 lead ' its first of the game ' with 9:37 to play in the game.

I didn't have any rhythm in the first half, but the second half felt good, said Singler, who finished the game 11 of 22 passing for 181 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

North Medford came right back with a 53-yard drive, but when Weaver made back-to-back defensive stops to keep the Tornado out of the end zone, North appeared headed for another loss

But Bruhns was granted one final opportunity, and he came through.

This had to be as exciting as any Black and Blue Game, said Rumrey. Neither team deserved to lose.

The loss was costly to South Medford in more ways than one. Harthun suffered what was believed to be a third-degree shoulder separation, starting guard Johan Holtz went down with a knee injury and defensive back Taylor Boyd left the game with a leg injury.

We're a snake-bitten football team, said South Medford coach Bill Singler, whose team lost in the final seconds to Lake Oswego and now to North Medford. I'm proud of the way we gathered ourselves in the second half tonight and got the lead, but it's obviously frustrating to let a game like this get away.

North Medford held a slight 316-305 edge in total offense.

Tornado wins wild one"dhunt@mailtribune.com.

South Medford?s Kyle Singler (3) is tripped up by North Medford?s Ryan Folsom (7) and Zach Russell (22) during Friday?s game. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli