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GP dashes North’s hopes

GRANTS PASS — Third-ranked North Medford couldn’t have asked for much better when it came to Friday’s start against fourth-ranked Grants Pass at Mel Ingram Field.

The finish, however, left a little to be desired as the football game’s momentum found its way to the opposite sideline during a clash of Southwest Conference heavyweights.

The Black Tornado opened a 13-0 lead in the second quarter before Grants Pass came alive behind the fleet feet of Zac Hannan to rally for a pivotal 38-21 victory.

The Cavemen (6-0, 4-0 SWC) outscored the defending SWC champions 24-8 in the second half to pull away.

“We came out really fired up but somewhere in the game we lost that hunger and that fight in us,” said North Medford senior Tristen Holmes, who had one interception and a 37-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. “They just really wanted it more than we did and that’s what it came down to tonight. They’re a really good defense and a really good team, we just didn’t have what we needed.”

Above all others, what Grants Pass had was Hannan — and that was the key to victory on this night. The 5-foot-11, 155-pound track star scored all five touchdowns for the Cavemen, running nine times for 184 yards and three scores to complement two TD receptions from quarterback Javan Appling.

“I expected North Medford might come out and score first but I didn’t think we’d spot them 13 before we kinda got going,” said Grants Pass head coach John Musser. “We’ve done that the last couple weeks, kinda taking our time to feel things out and get going. But once it got going, it was on. The way Zac was running tonight, it’s tough to beat.”

Grants Pass had trailed only one other time this season, according to Musser, and that was in the season opener against Sherwood prior to a game-clinching field goal by Moges Dinkins. The Cavemen’s ability to battle through adversity against the Black Tornado (5-1, 3-1) likely clinched their first conference title since 1994. Grants Pass already owned a win over title-contender Sheldon (5-1, 3-1) this season.

“It’s tough because we’ve got three weeks left and you feel like you knock off the conference champ and automatically you’re conference champ,” said Musser, “but the reality is we’ve got three weeks here that we’ve got to take care of business, starting with Roseburg (next Friday).”

For North Medford, head coach Mike Mitchell said it’ll be business as usual for his team as well following Friday’s loss.

“What I told the kids is we’ve just had this long successful run here and we lost a game,” said Mitchell. “That’s all that happened tonight. We’ll come back against Willamette and we can clinch a playoff spot next week. We can play a team like this, we just need to get into the playoffs and start playing them.”

North Medford was the model of efficiency on its opening drive following a kickoff return by Edmund Polataivao that got the Tornado to the 41-yard line. With a good line surge and confident running by Nick Janakes and Will Spence, North Medford slowly but surely made its way upfield.

Tornado quarterback Troy Fowler was crisp and clean with his deliveries and capped the 59-yard drive with an 8-yard TD pass to Jared Evans with 5:26 to go in the first quarter. Christian Clark, making his first start in place of injured placekicker Isaac Grether, drilled the extra point for a 7-0 edge.

Fowler went on to complete his first 13 passes of the game and finished 25-for-32 passing for 287 yards with two TDs and two interceptions, each on Hail Mary efforts trying to make a big play inside the final five minutes.

Appling used his legs to generate a potential drive to answer for Grants Pass, running four times for 39 yards, but Holmes made him pay when he finally took to the air on a leaping interception in the end zone on a 30-yard attempt meant for Easton Bents.

Although North’s ensuing drive was halted in GP territory, the Tornado’s defense held and Janakes later dashed 15 yards to pay dirt for a 13-0 advantage with 7:18 to go in the first half.

That’s when the ball finally found its way into Hannan’s hands, and the shifty back knew exactly what to do with it. He burst for a 34-yard run to the end zone two minutes after the Tornado’s touchdown, then mirrored that effort one series later with a 28-yard TD scamper with 1:04 until halftime for a 14-13 edge.

“I really can’t put it into words,” Hannan said of the comeback. “We just trusted each other, it was amazing.”

Hannan took a screen pass from Appling 31 yards for a TD on the opening drive of the second half, and Dinkins’ 35-yard field goal pushed GP’s lead to 24-13 with 11:05 to go.

Keyed by a 44-yard reception by Spence on an improvised play by Fowler, North struck back when Holmes hauled in a 37-yard TD pass and then soared for a two-point conversion pass from Janakes to make it 24-21 with 9:10 remaining.

The play of the game, however, came on third-and-6 with 5:24 to go when Hannan turned a wheel route into a 60-yard TD for a 31-21 cushion.

“They just ran a really good play on that third down and executed it well,” said Holmes, who caught nine passes for 78 yards.

After the first of two interceptions by Jake Stoffel, Hannan clinched the contest with an 89-yard dash to pay dirt to cap his big night.

“The last couple games he’s kind of been under wraps a little bit,” said Musser. “He’s had those good 10-, 12- or 20-yard runs, but he just had that extra gear tonight that he brings out every once in a while.”

North Medford; 7; 6; 0; 8; —; 21

Grants Pass; 0; 14; 7; 17; —; 38

NM — Evans 8 pass from Fowler (Clark kick)

NM — Janakes 15 run (kick failed)

GP — Hannan 34 run (Dinkins kick)

GP — Hannan 28 run (Dinkins kick)

GP — Hannan 31 pass from Appling (Dinkins kick)

GP — FG Dinkins 35

NM — Holmes 37 pass from Fowler (Holmes pass from Janakes)

GP — Hannan 60 pass from Appling (Dinkins kick)

GP — Hannan 89 run (Dinkins kick)

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Grants Pass' Joe Malloy chases down North Medford's Troy Fowler (2) for a sack in the Cavers' 38-21 Southwest Conference triumph Friday. PHOTO BY ANDY ATKINSON
North Medford's Calvinn Casaday brings down Grants Pass' Keegan Weiss for a loss in the first half Friday at Mel Ingram Field in Grants Pass. PHOTO BY ANDY ATKINSON