North survives in OT
Five years removed from its last state playoff victory, North Medford wasn’t about to go out without a fight Friday night at Spiegelberg Stadium.
And what a fight it was.
With the Black Tornado and visiting Reynolds trading haymakers in an epic Class 6A first-round affair, even a traditional 48 minutes wasn’t enough to settle matters with the hometown fans on the edge of their seats after a 21-8 rally in the fourth quarter sent the game into overtime.
A rare defensive stand and a sophomore supplying only his second-ever varsity catch later, and 10th-seeded North Medford reached pandemonium with a 55-49 overtime triumph.
“Oh my gosh, there were so many ups and downs,” said North Medford senior quarterback Brennan Stults, who completed 26 of 45 passes for 395 yards, a career-best seven touchdowns and one interception. “It was a lot of fun, the most fun I’ve ever had in a football game. I know I said that last week (after beating South Medford), but this was just different. We had to make plays when it mattered most, and that’s what we did.”
North Medford (8-2) will face seventh-seeded Tualatin during next Friday’s second round. The last time the Black Tornado moved past the first round was in 2014.
In the overtime period, No. 23 seed Reynolds took the ball first but saw its hopes dashed when a fourth-and-3 pitch by backup quarterback Brendon Lynch was behind running back Keedin Branch, who could only tip the ball and then fall on it to signal the end of the Raiders’ possession.
With North Medford’s fans on their feet, Stults dropped back on the Tornado’s first play of overtime from the 25-yard line and dropped a perfectly placed ball into the arms of sophomore Bryce Dyer, who had gotten behind defensive back Emari Minor for the game-clinching touchdown.
“When he caught that, that was the happiest feeling I’ve ever felt in my body right there,” said Stults. “That was a chance for my senior year to be over and that sophomore right there just saved my life.”
As one would imagine, Dyer was pretty excited about it all, too.
“That was only my second catch on varsity and it was a pretty good one,” said the 6-foot-3 sophomore, who had two catches for 32 yards Friday. “I don’t think they get much better. It was a good way to start off my varsity career.”
Dyer had been a junior varsity standout this fall until getting the call up to the varsity for the playoffs.
“I’m just glad I got the opportunity to finally get a chance out here,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for it and I was ready to take advantage of it.”
“I was pretty confident with that one,” Dyer added of the OT catch. “I knew that he was one step behind and I was going to get that.”
Black Tornado head coach Steve Turner was equally confident.
Dyer might have scored his first touchdown on North Medford’s final drive of the fourth quarter before a pass interference penalty kept him from finishing the play with 90 seconds remaining. Turner and company remembered that moment and weren’t afraid to call his number with the game again hanging in the balance in overtime.
“We’ve known all year long how good he is, he must have scored 30 touchdowns as a JV player,” said Turner of Dyer. “We knew that was a matchup we had because we almost had him in the corner on the other end. He’s a good player, we see him every day in practice and we know what we had. He needed a lot of playing time at JV but he’s ready, and that was a great throw (by Stults).”
To even get the game into OT, Stults had to mount a 65-yard drive in the final four minutes of play and did that by spreading the ball around to Chance Costanzo, Jett Carpenter and Josh Baptiste before ultimately finding pay dirt on a 9-yard strike to Carpenter with 1:16 left in regulation.
Carpenter finished with eight catches for 123 yards and three TDs (20, 48 and 9 yards), Costanzo had 10 catches for 126 yards and Devyn Grafton was instrumental in the 21-8 fourth-quarter by North with an 18-yard TD and four catches overall for 53 yards.
With junior standout Devin Bradd on the sidelines serving a one-game suspension following an ejection last Friday, North Medford found itself going to the passing game more than usual.
Bradd led the Southwest Conference with 1,513 yards and 25 TDs on the ground.
“We’ve been passing the ball all year long and tonight we had to rely on it,” said Turner, whose team managed only 46 yards rushing on 21 attempts. “We had the drops there for a while but then when it came to that fourth quarter and we needed to make catches, we made catches and we made throws. I was happy with our quarterback, he stood in under pressure and took some shots.”
For all the positive vibes North Medford was feeling by taking a 21-6 lead early in the second quarter, Reynolds had the Black Tornado feeling on edge by scoring 28 straight points over the second and third quarters to build a 41-28 cushion heading into the fourth quarter.
Senior receiver Reggie Akles was a one-man wrecking crew during that outburst for Reynolds, scoring on a 33-yard pass from Dominique Miller, a 67-yard punt return and a 22-yard pass from Miller.
“He’s a good football player,” Reynolds head coach Ryan Aldred said of Akles. “We’ve got a handful of good football players on this team and they all had to make a contribution in their own way tonight, and they did. That’s a great (North Medford) football team over there. It’s not the outcome we wanted but our kids battled and that’s all you can ask from them.”
When North Medford regained the lead, 42-41, with about five minutes to play on an answered prayer of a pass from Stults to Carpenter, Miller went down to injury during the determined 48-yard scamper by Carpenter and never returned.
Reynolds withstood the loss of Miller when Akles took an option pitch from Lynch and raced 55 yards for yet another go-ahead score, but his presence was missed in the make-or-break overtime session.
“It was huge, losing Dom hurt,” added Aldred. “His ability to do things with his legs was obviously big, but he also understands our offense quite well and it’s hard to duplicate what he does.”
Reynolds was seeking its second straight upset at Spiegelberg following last year’s 35-28 upset of South Medford, which was the program’s first playoff win since 1997.
“Every time we step on the field on a Friday night we expect to win,” said Aldred. “We expect to compete that way and our kids competed for 48 minutes and then for a couple additional ones. That’s the expectation every night.”
Still, on this night, it was North Medford that found a way to rescue its season.
“When you get in the playoffs, a win is a win,” said Turner. “I don’t care if it’s by one point or 30. You’ve just got to take each week as it is and you move on. But this is huge for our kids. From being 3-7 last year to where we’re at now is a credit to a really good group of kids.”
NM — Baptiste 49 run (Cossette kick)
R — Branch 3 run (kick failed)
NM — Morris 54 pass from Stults (Cossette kick)
NM — Costanzo 6 pass from Stults (Cossette kick)
R — Wilson 22 run (Al Obaidi kick)
NM — Carpenter 20 pass from Stults (Cossette kick)
R — Akles 33 pass from Miller (Al Obaidi kick)
R — Akles 67 punt return (Al Obaidi kick)
R — Branch 6 run (Wilson run)
R — Akles 22 pass from Miller (run failed)
NM — Grafton 18 pass from Stults (Cossette kick)
NM — Carpenter 48 pass from Stults (Cossette kick)
R — Akles 55 run (Haynes pass from Lynch)
NM — Carpenter 9 pass from Stults (Cossette kick)
NM — Dyer 25 pass from Stults (no kick attempted)