Finally, North plays Axemen, and wins
EUGENE — When the long wait finally ended, the North Medford football team was ready to play.
In a rare Monday night prep game, North Medford rolled past South Eugene 27-8 to win its Southwest Conference opener.
Isaac Manuel caught a 63-yard touchdown pass from Josh Robbins and recovered a fumble for another score, the first of two special teams touchdowns for the Black Tornado (1-2, 1-0 SWC).
The game was postponed on short notice on both Friday and Saturday due to poor air quality, leading to the highly unusual scheduling.
“It was just a different thing,” North coach Mike Mitchell said. “Once (the game) got rolling, it was fine — just like any other game. You don’t know how (the players are) going to react and they rose to the occasion.”
Mitchell was especially pleased with his team’s defense, which limited South Eugene to 21 yards rushing, and 161 yards overall, in what turned out to be a slog of a game in rainy conditions.
“That (defense) kept us in great field position and that was the secret of the night,” Mitchell said.
Robbins, a senior, completed a pair of scoring passes in the first half, finding senior receiver Tyler Evans from 14 yards out to cap North’s opening drive.
Manuel, a senior running back who rushed for a game-high 65 yards on 11 carries, scored in the second quarter on a well-executed screen pass, breaking tackles along the way.
The lone score for the Axemen (1-2, 0-1) came in the fourth quarter on 5-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Bryce Boettcher to senior receiver Eliott James, who then tacked on the two-point conversion with another reception on a pass from Boettcher.
Later in the fourth, North padded its lead when sophomore linebacker Owen Grafton recovered a fumble in South Eugene’s end zone, capitalizing on a punt that slipped through the hands of the Axemen returner.
Another second-half special teams gaffe, when South Eugene attempted a punt and the ball was snapped over the punter’s head and into the Axemen end zone, led to Manuel’s touchdown recovery.
Also for North, junior Tucker Houck converted 3 of 4 extra-point kicks.
“We were real pleased,” Mitchell said. "It’s the best we’ve played this year and that’s the highlight over the win. We actually played good football tonight. We were intense all night long, that’s what was good.”
North is slated to face Sheldon on Friday in what shapes up as a short week of preparation, although the team has requested to have the game moved to Saturday and expects to have a response from Sheldon’s athletics department soon.
NORTH MEDFORD 27, SOUTH EUGENE 8
At South Eugene
NM — Evans 14 pass from Robbins (Houck kick)
NM — Manuel 63 pass from Robbins (kick failed)
NM — Manuel fumble recovery (Houck kick)
SE — James 5 pass from Boettcher (James pass from Boettcher)
NM — O. Grafton fumble recovery (Houck kick)
North Medford — Robinson 13-42, Robbins 5-(-5), Va’a 1-2, Manuel 11-65, Spence 2-7.
South Eugene — Boettcher 10-(-13), Mertz 6-26, Brown 5-2.
North Medford — Robbins 6-18-0, 134; Manuel 0-1-0, 0.
South Eugene — Boettcher 19-35-1, 146.
North Medford — Evans 3-48, Spence 1-14, Borga 1-9, Manuel 1-63.
South Eugene — Yates 6-45, Mertz 1-(-1), Reyna 2-10, James 7-69, Brown 1-8, Sneed 2-15.
Reach reporter Mike Oxendine at 541-776-4499 or firstname.lastname@example.org