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Tornado takes it

South Medford gave its cross-town rival reason for pause in the 29th annual Black and Blue Game, but sixth-ranked North Medford proved too experienced and too talented to be denied Friday night at Spiegelberg Stadium.

Senior quarterback Troy Fowler put forth the second-best passing night in Black and Blue football history thanks to some sensational play by receivers Tristen Holmes, Josh Hansen and Jared Evans and the Black Tornado used a momentum-changing kickoff return by Will Spence to secure a 49-22 win over the Panthers.

“I think South’s a really good football team, I was impressed with them,” said North Medford coach Mike Mitchell. “I thought they played hard and (Craig) Contreras is a darn good quarterback, so I’m really happy how we played against them.”

Fowler completed 22 of 31 passes for 369 yards, four touchdowns and one interception, with Holmes (seven catches for 109 yards and one TD), Hansen (six catches for 116 yards and two TDs) and Evans (two catches for 72 yards and one TD) proving valuable assets.

“They made incredible plays, and the (offensive) line played great, too,” said Fowler. “They gave me three seconds in the pocket almost every time and it wasn’t rushed. When you have that receiving corps, you just put it up to them and hope they come down with it.”

Former South Medford High standout Boomer Marshall, who is the Panthers’ current quarterback coach, set the Black and Blue Game standard with 462 yards and five TDs on 23-for-35 passing in 2002.

“I wanted Boomer,” Fowler said with a laugh. “I wanted him, and coach Mitchell just told me, ‘No.’ It’s all right, Boomer can stay up there for a little bit longer.”

North Medford improved to 7-1 overall and 5-1 in Southwest Conference play, while South Medford dropped to 5-3 and 3-3 in conference.

“They’re a great team,” said Panthers senior quarterback Craig Contreras of the Tornado. “They have great skill players and Troy’s a great quarterback. When they jumped on us and got that momentum, it was just hard for us to come back on it and I think that’s where they got us in this game.”

South Medford marched downfield on its opening drive, sparked by a diving 39-yard catch by freshman Kaleb Franklin, to get into scoring position but a 17-yard pass to freshman Chase Cota was dislodged at the last moment by Holmes in the end zone and two more incompletions followed to turn the ball over to North.

The Black Tornado used a sensational over-the-shoulder catch by a falling down Evans to set up a 1-yard TD run by Nick Janakes to get the scoring started. North Medford then forced a fumble on Bobby Chaney’s kickoff return that was recovered by Edmund Polataivao, and the Tornado went up 14-0 six plays later when Fowler found Holmes for a leaping catch in the back of the end zone.

South Medford countered with another solid drive, highlighted by a soaring 33-yard grab in traffic by Cota, and cut into its deficit on a pretty 27-yard TD connection from Contreras to sophomore Cedrick Mobley.

North Medford answered with a 5-yard scoring run by Janakes to make it 20-7 and then appeared to have momentum entirely on its side when Holmes stepped in front of a Contreras pass intended for Franklin at the goal line for an interception.

On third down from the North 12-yard line, however, Fowler suffered his only blemish of the night when South Medford senior Nick Henry intercepted a pass intended for Holmes at the Tornado 24.

“It was miscommunication with Tristen,” said Fowler of only his third pick of the season. “It was a double slant route and Tristen stopped on it and the DB made a great play.”

The Panthers capitalized on that shift in momentum four plays later when Contreras hooked up with Franklin for a 5-yard scoring strike to make it 20-14 with 3:49 to go in the first half. Franklin finished with five catches for 76 yards and also ran seven times for 47 yards in a breakout performance.

That sudden jolt of hope didn’t last long, however, as Spence took in a floating kickoff at the 30-yard line, avoided immediate danger and found blocking and wide open territory down the sideline for a stunning 70-yard kickoff return.

“That really sparked the whole deal for us,” said Mitchell. “There’s a point in every game where you get the spark that gives you the intensity that you need, and that kickoff was definitely it I thought. That was a great play by Will Spence.”

Contreras certainly agreed.

“They got that kickoff return right after we scored to make it a one-touchdown game and that kind of took the wind out of our sails,” said Contreras, who finished 14-for-28 passing for 216 yards and three TDs. “We tried to get back on it but we just couldn’t recover from that.”

South Medford’s ensuing drive was full of promise until a holding penalty negated a first-down run by Contreras to the Tornado 25-yard line. That pushed the Panthers back to third-and-18 and Tre Holmes fought through for a sack to force a punt.

With only 29.9 seconds to go until the half, Fowler and company still were able to produce a back-breaking score. Hansen got behind Franklin, who had come on for an injured Chaney, for a 46-yard TD with 11 seconds to go until halftime.

“I think Josh had the catch of the night right before halftime,” said Fowler of the score that made it 35-14. “That was a really big momentum shift. If they had scored it would’ve been a really tight game, but then he scored right there and it was over then.”

North Medford scored once in the third quarter on a 22-yard TD reception by Hansen and again to open the fourth on a 38-yard TD reception by Evans to build a 49-14 cushion. South Medford followed with a 4-yard TD reception by Cota before Makai Manuwai tackled Nico Baldovino in the end zone for a safety for the final points with 2:50 to go.

“It wasn’t over until the bell rang,” said Fowler. “You wanted it to be over but they kept on fighting back and fighting back, getting the safety there at the end and everything. When it hit zeroes, I felt a lot better.”

For South Medford coach Bill Singler, there definitely were some positives in another injury-filled night.

“I was happy with how our kids came out of the gate,” he said. “That’s a sign that the kids really care about what they’re doing. Even though we’ve got a lot of young kids, and it was kind of a men against boys deal at times, there’s a lot of promise on this football team.”

“Kids were trying their best but, at times, we were just out-manned or out-athleted,” added Singler. “But I can’t fault the effort and ability to come out and play with some energy and enthusiasm.”

South Medford; 0; 14; 0; 8; — 22

North Medford; 14; 21; 7; 7; — 49

NM — Janakes 1 run (Grether kick)

NM — Holmes 28 pass from Fowler (Grether kick)

SM — Mobley 27 pass from Contreras (Mejia kick)

NM — Janakes 5 run (run failed)

SM — Franklin 5 pass from Contreras (Mejia kick)

NM — Spence 70 kickoff return (Holmes from Fowler)

NM — Hansen 46 pass from Fowler (Grether kick)

NM — Hansen 22 pass from Fowler (Grether kick)

NM — Evans 38 pass from Fowler (Grether kick)

SM — Cota 4 pass from Contreras (pass failed)

SM — Safety, Manuwai tackle in end zone

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

North Medford senior quarterback Troy Fowler scrambles past South Medford defenders in the Southwest Conference game Friday at Spiegelberg Stadium. PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR.
Tristen Holmes, a North Medford senior, fends off South Medford sophomore Bobby Chaney. Holmes caught seven passes and scored a touchdown. PHOTOS BY LARRY STAUTH JR.