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North denies Canby

North Medford didn’t have a lot to hang its hat on during the first half of Friday’s home opener against Canby, but the Black Tornado sure made up for it in the second half in nonleague football at Spiegelberg Stadium.

After watching the visiting Cougars chip away with their Wing-T running game for 119 yards on 29 carries in the first half and add 65 yards through the air, North Medford dug deep to turn things around in the final 24 minutes.

The Black Tornado limited Canby to 50 yards of total offense in the second half and held its foe scoreless in a 24-10 comeback win on a muggy night.

“It took a while for our defense to adjust, but once we got a grip on that I thought our defense really played well in the second half,” said North Medford head coach Mike Mitchell, whose team moved to 1-1. “Canby looked big in those first few series, but the guys just stayed with it. They bowed their back a little bit after that. Those kind of teams are tough because they can grind away at you. But once we got rolling, they can’t play catchup. That's the trouble with that kind of team, so I felt really good once our offense got on a roll.”

Will Spence ran for touchdowns of 16 and 9 yards in the third quarter and finished with 97 yards on 16 carries, and senior quarterback Greyson Wolff shook off a pair of first-half interceptions to control the offense in the second half and also tossed a 39-yard TD pass to Mason Barone in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.

“Our defense really stepped it up in the second half, and I feel like it was a combination of Greyson being calm, our line staying calm and us playing our game together as a team was what led us to the win,” said Spence, who also helped the defensive effort at linebacker.

Spence said the win was much-needed for a North Medford team that is low on varsity experience but high on potential.

“It was really big, we needed that,” said the 6-foot, 185-pounder. “Our loss last week (21-14 at Fortuna High in California) shouldn’t have happened, we’re a better team than that. We were really eager for this win. We all felt it in our stomachs this whole week that something big was going to happen Friday night and it did happen and I’m really proud of my team for that.”

While most all of North Medford’s highlights could be found in the second half, no play likely loomed larger for the Black Tornado than an opportunistic one turned in by junior linebacker Justin Geyer on the game’s first drive.

Canby (1-1) opened the contest by dissecting North Medford’s defense, moving from its own 20 to the Tornado 19-yard line in six plays. Geyer hustled in off the sideline for the seventh play of the drive, and what a decision that turned out to be.

Canby quarterback Nico Tellache turned and pitched the football left toward running back Tanner Monen, but the ball caromed off his hands to the artificial turf right in front of Geyer, who picked up the fumble and churned upfield for a 77-yard touchdown.

“I saw the guards pulling from the other side so I went to just go up and fill the spot where the (Mike linebacker) is supposed to, and then I don’t know what happened,” said Geyer. “It just seemed like it was slow motion almost. I looked at him, he looked right at me and his eyes got big and the ball just went through his hands. I ran over there and picked up the ball and just kept running.”

Geyer’s tally gave North Medford a 6-0 lead just 2½ minutes into the contest, and it would be the Tornado’s only score of the first half. Canby answered with an eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive capped by Zane Rise’s 4-yard run.

North appeared to be in good position for a response after Tucker Barry turned a quick pass from Wolff into a 54-yard gain to the Canby 15-yard line, but Wolff failed to get rid of the football under duress and took a 23-yard loss on a sack on the next play.

Canby’s Justin Morris later intercepted Wolff after North got to the Cougars’ 34-yard line. A second interception by defensive lineman Joe Withers put Canby deep in Tornado territory with 11 seconds to go in the first half, and the Cougars capitalized with a 29-yard field goal by Spencer Cummings to take a 10-6 lead into intermission.

Even with the low totals — North had 9 rushing yards on nine carries and 81 yards of offense — the team remained confident in the halftime locker room.

“It was a sluggish first half but our motto for the year in practice is to finish and we want to carry that over into the game,” said Geyer. “I think we really followed that motto to the end tonight.”

North scored on an 80-yard drive to open the second half, then drove from its own 36 on the second series for Spence’s second score to make it 18-10.

Wolff was 12-for-22 passing for 177 yards, one TD and two interceptions, while Barry hauled in seven passes for 82 yards.

Defensively, linemen Tre Holmes and A.J. Raye came up with big stops to complement hard hitting in the secondary by Wyatt Westfall and Barone. Junior linebacker Praise Villamu had three big sacks.

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

North Medford's Will Spence gets hoisted by teammate A.J. Raye after scoring a touchdown in the third quarter of a 24-10 victory over Canby at Spiegelberg Stadium Friday. PHOTO BY ANDY ATKINSON
North Medford defenders Wyatt Westfall, right, and Tucker Barry (9) help bring down Canby quarterback Nico Tellache on fourth down in the third quarter. PHOTO BY ANDY ATKINSON