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North blocks Fortuna

North Medford head coach Mike Mitchell got to see a lot from his football team in its season opener Friday night at Spiegelberg Stadium.

Some of it he liked, some he wasn’t as pleased with.

But the most important sight was on the scoreboard near the south end of the stadium that showed his Black Tornado was a 38-21 winner over Fortuna High of California.

“I was real pleased with the outcome and that we stuck with it,” said Mitchell. “We played hard all night, we just didn’t play smart all night. We’re going to take this and feel good about it and I think we can grow a lot on this.”

North Medford (1-0) scored 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, including 13 in a 32-second span late in the contest, to separate from Fortuna (0-2).

Black Tornado senior defensive end A.J. Raye had his hand in several highlights for his team but none more than a blocked punt that led to a touchdown shortly after his team had gone ahead 32-21 on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Josh Robbins to Elias Spence.

After North Medford forced three straight incompletions, Fortuna quarterback and punter J.B. Lewis dropped back on fourth down for a punt that was rejected by the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Raye and sent back toward the end zone. North Medford junior Jonathinn Casaday swooped in to claim the prize, recovering the loose ball in the end zone for a Black Tornado touchdown that was a back-breaker for Fortuna with 2:57 to play.

“That was honestly just a lot of motivation to get the game over with,” Raye said of his all-out surge to block Lewis’ punt. “I just wanted us to get the ball back and end it on a strong note.”

It was a night of ups and downs for a North Medford team that graduated a host of starters and was testing the waters at several key positions against the visiting Huskies.

The Black Tornado did well to keep chugging along against Fortuna despite only three offensive plays in the third quarter and a fourth play that was supposed to be a punt by Joey Hunter but wound up turning into a safety when a low snap resulted in Hunter being tackled in the end zone by Fortuna’s Brendan Simera.

The Huskies then tacked on a 13-play, 43-yard drive that was capped by a 1-yard TD plunge by Lewis on the first play of the fourth quarter for a 21-18 advantage.

“You’ve got to give them credit,” said Mitchell of the Huskies, “they play hard and they’re a real physical team.”

Faced with a little adversity, North Medford responded with a good kickoff return by Justin Geyer and, three plays later, found itself back on top when junior quarterback Javan Gail connected with Tyler Evans for a 43-yard touchdown pass on a streak down the left side of the field for a quick answer.

Robbins, another junior quarterback, was later given a short field after Raye deflected a fourth-down pass by Lewis and guided the Black Tornado to another TD, this one coming on a 16-yard pass from Robbins to sophomore Elias Spence with 3:29 to go for a 32-21 advantage.

Gail finished his first start for North Medford 7-for-9 passing for 151 yards with one interception and two touchdowns — the first coming on a 45-yard connection to Vicente Borja in the first quarter. Robbins completed 12 of 17 passes for 131 yards and two TDs — he hit Joey Hunter on a 9-yard TD as time expired for halftime — and also scored on a 1-yard TD run in the second quarter.

Both quarterbacks had been auditioning for the starting job, and each showed enough to please Mitchell but not necessarily decide that position battle.

“I thought both quarterbacks had bright spots,” said Mitchell, “and I thought Harley (Robinson) looked good at tailback there late in the game. He’s got some speed and is a threat to where he can get away.”

Robinson led North Medford with 41 yards rushing on 12 carries, with 29 yards coming on the Black Tornado’s final drive in the fourth quarter.

Fortuna scored twice in 20 seconds at the end of the first quarter to build a 13-6 lead, with Church Crenshaw punching in a score from 2-yards out and Scott Sederberg picking up a fumble after a short completion to Hunter and dashing 48 yards for a score.

A fourth-down sack by Raye helped squash another deep Fortuna surge and, with 3½ minutes to go in the second quarter, Raye pried the ball away from Lewis for a fumble recovery that eventually led to Robbins’ TD run to cut Fortuna’s lead to 13-12.

“A.J. had a big game,” said Mitchell. “I was real pleased with him.”

Hunter led North Medford with 101 yards receiving on six catches, with Evans hauling in five passes for 74 yards.

Crenshaw paced Fortuna’s power run game with 100 yards on 21 carries, while Lewis carried 18 times for 42 yards and completed 3 of 11 passes for 32 yards.

Overall, North Medford outgained Fortuna, 340-209, with Geyer coming up with another fumble recovery deep in Tornado territory to deny the Huskies’ initial drive of the third quarter.

“I thought it was a really good defensive effort all night long,” said Mitchell. “They weren’t much of a threat, it just seemed like they were.”

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

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North Medford's Vicente Borja catches a 45-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter against Fortuna on Friday night at Spiegelberg Stadium. PHOTOS BY ANDY ATKINSON
North Medford's Daniel Ibarra brings down Fortuna's JB Lewis during the first quarter on Friday. PHOTO BY ANDY ATKINSON