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Crater trips up North

CENTRAL POINT — When football coaches are leaping into each other's arms following a victory, you know the game was meaningful.

That was the scene Friday night at Dutch Meyer Field after Crater, ranked No. 7 at the Class 5A level, stunned Class 6A North Medford, 14-13, for an emotional triumph.

Despite playing without three key starters, the Comets (4-1) never flinched against the 10th-ranked Black Tornado (3-1) to give Crater High its first win over North Medford since a 25-12 win in 1995.

"We were definitely amped up," said Crater senior Jacob Ziegler, who was a force on both sides of the ball. "We got kinda mad that the media and everybody was picking North Medford (to win) so that got us going. We wanted to prove something to the community and to Medford, and that we can compete at the 6A level as well."

Friday's game will be aired locally at 6 tonight by the Southern Oregon ESD on Charter channel 16.

The Comets appeared to rally around junior quarterback Tyler Turituri and senior cousins Devin and Christian Massey, who were serving one-game suspensions following last week's fight against Jefferson High, and a coaching staff that hadn't tasted victory in this matchup since they were manning the other sideline.

Junior Derek Cartwright was explosive at running back, amassing 145 yards and one touchdown on 18 carries, and sophomore quarterback Cory Wynant did just enough to keep the Tornado honest in his first varsity start.

"We've been battling them since coach (John) Beck and (his assistants) came over here and we got it done tonight," said Cartwright. "For our coaching staff and our guys that were out, Turi and both the Masseys, that's just a huge win for them."

"That whole win goes back to the O-line, though," added Cartwright. "Without them, we would've gone nowhere. All of them worked their butt off tonight."

The night didn't get off to quite the start the Comets might have hoped for, with the opening snap of the contest sailing past Wynant for a 17-yard loss. Things improved from there, however, as Wynant completed his first five passes — all to Kelley Beck and Ziegler — and Crater crisply used its spread offense to put North on its heels.

Following a Thomas Reed interception, Crater marched 71 yards on its second series to nab a 7-0 lead. Cartwright did the heavy lifting over the final 30 yards, scooting around the left side and diving inside the pylon for a 13-yard score with 3:07 to go in the first quarter.

North Medford chewed up a lot of clock on its next two drives but turned the ball over on downs at the Crater 27 and 22, respectively. The Black Tornado had a chance to pin the Comets deep in their own territory midway through the second quarter, but Cartwright broke off a huge 49-yard run to deny that quest.

Steven Petersen stepped in front of a Wynant pass moments later, giving North the ball back but on its own 28. A Zach Zelecki sack pushed the Tornado back further and Crater's defense forced a punt on the three-and-out series.

Zach Tanner sent a high punt toward Ziegler near midfield, and the speedy senior did the rest, covering 52 yards for the score. Some North players appeared to hesitate on the play after believing Ziegler had called for a fair catch.

"I was about to call a fair catch but I didn't actually give the full wave ... I hesitated," said Ziegler, "then I caught it, spun off a tackle and found my way into the end zone. I had some good blocks along the way."

Parker Etchison's bone-jarring block on Colin Sowers, in particular, helped seal off the sideline.

The Black Tornado managed to get back into the game in the second half with some opportunistic defensive play. Gage Jacobson recovered a fumbled handoff between Wynant and Ziegler at the Crater 19 and went in from 5 yards out two plays later to make it 14-7 with 4:02 to go in the third.

Another fumbled handoff on the ensuing series allowed Mark Dickison to swoop in and give the ball back to North, which again capitalized. This time, Cory Haggans hauled in a 31-yard TD pass from Brian Reese with two seconds to go in the third quarter.

But jubilation turned to dismay seconds later when the snap for the extra-point attempt went awry and the Tornado could do nothing more than fall on the loose ball.

Both teams fought tooth-and-nail throughout the fourth quarter before the game was finally settled with 29 seconds to play when Reese's fourth-down pass toward Jeremy Scottow was broken up by Ziegler.

"I kinda felt that was what they were going to do," said Ziegler. "They like to throw to the boundary a lot and go back to the sideline and stop the clock, so I kinda figured that was coming at me."

The rest involved a kneel down by Wynant and an emotional outpouring on the Crater sideline. For North, it was a case of what might have been.

"We knew it wasn't going to be a cakewalk," said Haggans, who led North with 111 yards on 11 receptions and was a leading tackler. "Three of their really good players got ejected (for this week) and they were going to go off that and come out and play hard against us, and that's what they did."

"That's a good football team," added the senior. "They were stuffing the run and when we would pass they were stuffing the pass. They were really splitting the gaps. They beat us up."

North was limited to 33 yards rushing on 22 carries and 241 yards overall after Reese completed 25 of 40 passes for 208 yards. Crater had 179 yards of total offense, with Wynant going 7-for-13 for 55 yards.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com

Crater High's Jacob Ziegler (4) tackles North Medford's Cory Haggans during the third quarter of Friday's game at Dutch Meyer Field. - Jamie Lusch