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Tornado grinds out SWC win

North Medford entered Friday night's Southwest Conference opener with a plan to control the time of possession and keep the high-octane attack of South Eugene off the field at Spiegelberg Stadium.

The only problem? The Black Tornado owned a running game that was averaging 85 yards per contest and was coming off a loss to Crater in which it turned 22 attempts into only 33 yards gained.

None of that seemed to matter Friday night against the Axemen, however.

North Medford gained yardage on the ground during key stretches and backed that up with an effective passing attack and an unrelenting defense to stun South Eugene for the third straight season, 10-7.

"Our kids played their hearts out," said North Medford head coach Jeff Olson. "They battled all the way to the very end."

The Black Tornado (4-1, 1-0 SWC) gained 147 yards on 35 carries — sparked by a 40-yard run from Gage Jacobson — and tacked on 130 yards through the air to methodically churn out the come-from-behind victory.

"We needed to build a foundation tonight because we needed an identity, and I think we kinda laid the form for it tonight," added Olson. "We're a tough group. We bend a little bit on defense but we didn't break, and the offense controlled the clock."

In terms of time of possession, the Black Tornado held the football for 28 minutes and 53 seconds in the 48-minute contest. Most of that advantage was built in the second half, where North had the ball for 15:56 compared to only 8:04 for the Axemen.

"They wanted to own the clock and they did a really good job of it," said South Eugene head coach Travis Johnson. "We didn't practice very well this week and they came out ready to play. Oly's got them going, they're a good football team."

South Eugene (4-1, 0-1) opened the game with a soaring 37-yard strike from quarterback Cameron Ofner to 6-foot-5 receiver Spencer Coleman — admittedly causing jitters for Olson right off the bat — but failed to deliver on the promise of a big night thereafter. The Tornado stepped up to hold the Axemen to 254 yards of total offense — 180 yards less than the Eugene team had been averaging leading up to the game.

"We just could not get the pace going," added Johnson, whose team ran a no-huddle attack throughout the contest. "We took two steps forward and one step back with a drop ball or wrong read or whatever."

Scoring only seven points was a season-low for the Axemen, who were averaging 41 points per game. The loss was the 12th straight in SWC play for South Eugene.

"The mentality on defense is nobody can beat us," said North Medford senior linebacker Colin Sowers. "We feel like we can match up with anyone in the state and it's showed so far."

South Eugene took a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard run by Aaron Moville with 9:02 to go in the first half and that score held up into intermission. North Medford had a promising first drive come to a halt when Brian Reese's pass toward Jeremy Scottow was tipped twice and then fell into the hands of Keenan Jordan, who had already fallen to the turf.

Although his team trailed on the scoreboard, Sowers said the Black Tornado actually went into the locker room believing momentum was on its side.

"At halftime we knew they weren't the ones that were beating us up and down the field," he said. "We felt like we had the momentum at the half so we came out strong with that mentality in the second half."

North Medford opened the third quarter with a 16-play, 70-yard drive that also featured five penalties — four on the Axemen. South Eugene committed nine penalties overall for 64 yards, the bulk coming on flags for being offsides.

Scott Higgins' 23-yard field goal capped the drive.

"We started to wear them down a little bit, I think," said Olson. "Especially that drive that started the second half. We only got a field goal out of it, but that has to wear a team down."

It certainly appeared to do the trick. After holding South Eugene, North marched 76 yards to take the lead for good with 10:16 to go in the fourth quarter. Jacobson's 40-yard gainer was instrumental, as well as an offsides penalty by the Axemen on third-and-four early in the series. Sowers pinballed into the end zone from 15 yards out following Jacobson's run.

"Gage had that big run right before and that was big," said Sowers. "The line got a little fired up after that and that helped us a lot."

Sowers finished with a game-high 68 yards on 19 carries, while Jacobson finished with 51 yards on seven carries and Reese gained 23 yards on eight attempts. Reese was hit on several throws but was not sacked on the night, going 12-for-19 for 130 yards with a pair of interceptions.

"We challenged our team that, collectively, we've got to be able to control the line of scrimmage, and tonight we finally started to do that," said Olson. "I'm very proud of those kids."

Making things a little easier for North was the absence of South Eugene phenom Gabe King, who is regarded as one of the top defensive ends in the nation. The 6-foot-5, 265-pounder from North Carolina played his first game for the Axemen last week, but apparently suffered a meniscus injury sometime between then and Friday's game.

"We're not sure about Gabe, which hurts," said Johnson. "We found out today (about his injury) on the bus. He's not even sure when it happened."

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

North Medford's Colin Sowers plows through the South Eugene defensive line during Friday night's SWC opener for both teams at Spiegelberg Stadium. The Black Tornado came through with a 10-7 victory. - Sean Jeter