North fends off Fortuna
North Medford came out of the gates strong in Friday night’s football season opener at Spiegelberg Stadium, but the sixth-ranked Black Tornado had to white-knuckle it a bit down the stretch thanks to a valiant comeback bid by the visiting Fortuna (Calif.) Huskies.
Clicking on all cylinders, North Medford built a 27-6 cushion midway through the second quarter and was every bit the team expected to repeat as Southwest Conference champions.
Then the legs wore out, and a Fortuna squad that won in impressive fashion one week ago used its veer attack to throw one lengthy drive after another at the reeling Black Tornado. But North Medford used a 76-yard kickoff return by Tucker Barry and a third touchdown pass by Troy Fowler in the final minute to hold on for a 41-31 triumph.
“We came out really strong, obviously, and unfortunately you can’t get in shape until you start playing and I think that’s what you saw,” said Fowler, who completed 14 of 20 passes for 223 yards. “We were a little out of shape in the second half.”
North Medford senior Nick Janakes helped carry the load early on, rushing for touchdowns of 7 and 2 yards in the first quarter to offset a 51-yard TD run by Fortuna quarterback Zach Hugh.
The offense then dialed deep for a pair of second-quarter touchdowns as Fowler found Josh Hansen alone for a 34-yard score and, after a fumble recovery by Calvinn Casaday, later dropped in a perfect pass for a 41-yard TD by Tristen Holmes for a 27-6 lead.
The Black Tornado (1-0) appeared destined to break it completely open moments later when Barry pulled in an interception near midfield, but a fumble gave the ball right back to Fortuna (1-1) and the Huskies mounted an important scoring drive to end the quarter on a 1-yard keeper by Hugh.
After holding North Medford on downs on a promising drive that stalled at the Fortuna 41-yard line, the Huskies used a 12-play drive — capped by Nolan Cahill’s 6-yard run — to suddenly pull within 27-18 with 38 seconds to go in the third quarter.
That’s when Barry provided the turning point of the night, taking a kickoff at his own 24-yard line and first sliding to his left before darting back right to wide open territory.
“We needed something, our crowd was dead and our sideline was dead,” said Fowler. “Coach Mitchell was talking to me about how we needed a long drive right here and then I look out there and Tucker’s running one back. It was awesome.”
That quick answer made it 33-18 and provided a clutch cushion for the Black Tornado, which later saw that lead trimmed to 33-31 with 4:27 to play.
“It was return left and my blockers did a good job,” Barry said of his TD, “and when I saw the hole, I cut back and then it was off to the races. It was nice.”
Undaunted, Fortuna fought back with an 80-yard scoring drive, with Hugh doing the honors from 4 yards out, and then after holding North to a three-and-out, the Huskies tacked on another 61-yard scoring drive highlighted by a 49-yard connection from Hugh to Ben Flackus.
“They controlled the clock on us real good and that’s how they stayed in the game,” said North Medford head coach Mike Mitchell, “but our kids made some big plays when they had to. I feel good about the win because that’s a good football team.”
“I’m happy with a lot of things and yet we saw a lot of work we’ve got to do,” he added. “We didn’t play with the emotion you have to play with tonight. We’ve got to learn that nobody’s gonna roll over because we were good last year, it doesn’t have anything to do with anything.”
North Medford capped the victory with a 52-yard drive culminated by a 10-yard scoring strike from Fowler to Holmes, who finished with four catches for 77 yards and two scores.
Janakes powered the Tornado’s running game with 93 yards on 18 attempts to go with three catches for 46 yards.
Hugh carried 16 times for 116 yards and was 4-for-11 passing for 70 yards to pace Fortuna, which also got 64 yards on 15 carries by Cahill.
Fortuna;6 6 6 13 — 31
North Medford;14 13 6 8 — 41
NM — Janakes 7 run (Grether kick)
F — Hugh 51 run (kick failed)
NM — Janakes 2 run (Grether kick)
NM — Hansen 34 pass from Fowler (pass failed)
NM — Holmes 41 pass from Fowler (Grether kick)
F — Hugh 1 run (pass failed)
F — Cahill 6 run (pass failed)
NM — Barry 76 kickoff return (pass failed)
F — Hugh 4 run (kick failed)
F — Flackus 49 pass from Hugh (Chinichi kick)
NM — Holmes 10 pass from Fowler (Barry pass from Janakes)
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry