Spence sets record but Tornado falls
In a battle of two teams looking for a late-season spark to bounce back from a rough stretch, it was visiting Aloha that turned on the jets after halftime to beat North Medford soundly in its own homecoming game, 44-28, Friday at Spiegelberg Stadium.
Down 21-10 at the break, the Warriors, who had lost three of their previous four games to drop to sixth place in the Metro League, scored five straight touchdowns in the second half to blow open the nonleague game.
North Medford (3-5), which lost for the fifth time in its last six games, couldn’t get its offense going after controlling the first half, as the Warriors (4-4) forced a punt, barely held on a fourth-down run by Eli Spence, recovered an onside kick and picked off a pass while holding the Tornado to only a garbage-time touchdown in a second-half rout.
Aloha also benefited from a key holding call, which denied Spence a potential go-ahead 30-yard touchdown run early in the third.
“We came out, we had a good drive, we had a touchdown called back,” North Medford coach Steve Turner said. “That was the deal right there, big time. Did that change the game? Yeah. Momentum. That was a big swing right there.”
The run would have increased the Tornado lead to 27-17 before the point-after with a little under 11 minutes to go in the third. Instead, Aloha forced a punt on fourth-and-15 and, three plays later, Aloha quarterback Timothy Dennis hit Regan Wilson in stride down the sideline for an 87-yard gut-punch touchdown. The Warriors never trailed again.
Aloha coach Bill Volk said the comeback began with an emotional halftime talk.
“They committed to each other at halftime,” he said. “It was a heck of a moment. Twenty minutes off gave us a chance to just really reflect and be a family. It chokes me up, man, because these guys, they’ve bought in, and we got back to the basics of football. And (North Medford) is a tough team.”
“We found some things that they were doing defensively and we definitely wanted to come back and strike that stuff, hit the holes we could find,” Volk added. “We found matchups that we wanted up front as well as on the edge.”
Specifically, Wilson’s matchup. The 5-foot-10 junior receiver terrorized the Tornado all night, finishing with four catches — all touchdowns — for 131 yards. The 87-yarder, which included a vicious stiff arm, was by far the longest, but equally demoralizing was his 2-yard fade catch on second-and-goal that extended Aloha’s lead to 29-21, and soon thereafter a 39-yard post that made it 35-21.
In between, the Warriors jumped on a surprise onside kick.
“I liked our first half; I didn’t like our second half,” Turner said.
Spence ran wild again for the Tornado but was held out of the end zone in the second half until late. The senior rushed for 244 yards with touchdown runs of 31 and 41 yards plus a 23-yard touchdown reception. He accounted for 267 of North’s 343 yards, and became the school’s single-season rushing leader after eclipsing Ryan Folsom’s mark of 1,743 yards rushing in 2005. Spence has 1,757 entering next Friday’s regular-season finale against South Medford.
Though contained for most of the second half, Spence plowed through would-be tacklers again and again in the first half. He bounced outside after a hard stiff-arm for his first score, and overpowered four Warriors for his second, the 41-yarder.
“I tell you what, (Spence) is a hell of a ballplayer,” Volk said. “That kid can flat-out get after it.”
That mismatch was negated as the game wore on, however, as Aloha dominated the time of possession after the break. One drive told the story.
Up two with 16 seconds to go in the third, Aloha took over possession at its own 6-yard line and proceeded to march 94 yards on 14 plays. The drive included a third-and-5 conversion at their own 40, a third-and-1 conversion at the North 25 and, finally, Wilson’s short one-on-one corner catch for the touchdown.
Dennis completed 13 of 25 passes for 256 yards and five touchdowns and ran for another. Aloha’s Imani Jamali rushed for 126 yards.
Next came the onside kick, and disaster for the Tornado.
“We definitely wanted to keep the ball out of their hands,” Volk said, explaining the onside kick. “They’re an offense that controls the clock. And we felt we didn’t get our strikes in the first half. We just didn’t get the ball possession we wanted. ... It worked out. Sometimes you gotta be more lucky than good, and I think it worked out for us tonight being a little lucky.”
Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-776-4469 and firstname.lastname@example.org