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PREP NOTEBOOK: ‘Tale of two halves’ for South, North

South Medford's Carson Cota celebrates after scoring during the opening drive of the third quarter of Friday’s Black and Blue Bowl at Spiegelberg Stadium. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune

Bigger Black and Blue Bowl football games have taken place in regards to pregame hype and statewide intrigue.

Many years have even produced equally exciting endings, with fans on each side balancing a need to hold their breath while also screaming at the top of their lungs.

But there is little doubt that Friday’s 35th matchup between North Medford and South Medford will go down as the most improbable of them all to date.

“If you go back and you watch the film,” Black Tornado coach Steve Turner said Monday, “everything that had to happen for them in the last four minutes happened for them.

“Everything that went wrong for us went right for them, and that was a huge difference. Kudos to them for all the good things that happened for them.”

Even South Medford coach Bill Singler had to take a breath Monday while replaying his team’s good fortune from its 35-34 comeback victory over North, featuring more subplots than even the wildest of soap operas.

The Panthers trailed 20-0 with less than five minutes to play in the first half and 27-7 at the break, with only 71 yards of total offense to call its own compared to 299 by the Black Tornado.

It was 34-21 with six minutes to play in the game when South Medford reeled off 14 straight points to stun its crosstown rival.

“Obviously we had to have a lot of things go right, the stars had to align,” said Singler. “We had to make some real big plays, which we did. We had to get some stops, which we did. We had to get the onside kick, which we did. Then in the end we had to obviously score, and we did. And then the exclamation point is Jude Pannell had to make all his extra-points again, and Jude made all his extra points. Every point was needed.”

“I don’t know what else to say,” he added. “I guess you could say it was a storybook ending.”

Just how were the Panthers (4-1) able to make all those dominos — and the favored Black Tornado — fall?

“If I knew the magic potion, I’d tell you,” added Singler, “but I don’t know if I have the real answer for that. I give a lot of credit to our staff and to the kids themselves for pulling themselves together at halftime and basically just starting over.”

For North Medford (3-2), it all still seems like a blur.

The Black Tornado could not have played more true to form in a dominant first half, running the ball at will with Devin Bradd and his physical escorts on the offensive line to go with a stifling defensive presence up front led by Jayden Sandusky, Nathan Prince, Erick Santacruz, Tanner Gaoiran, Luke Pugliano and Dylan Holcomb.

“Our offensive line, they couldn’t have executed any better,” said Turner, whose Tornado saw Bradd extend his own series record with 306 yards rushing on 38 carries with four touchdowns. “They were fantastic.”

Short of an Asher Johnson interception ending one of North’s three second-half possessions — the final coming with only 29 seconds on the scoreboard after South had taken its first and only lead — as well as a handful of penalties, it’s not like the Black Tornado epicly struggled in the final 24 minutes, it just faced more resistance by South and a critical loss of momentum.

“It was a tale of two different halves,” said Turner. “We played outstanding in the first half and didn’t do much in the second half. It was tough to watch the film but that’s how you get better, so that’s where they’re at today.”

“Our offense didn’t do anything wrong, it just never had the ball,” he added of second-half opportunities.

Lucas Rivera’s recovery of Pannell’s onside kick played into North’s missed chance to potentially run down the clock in the end.

When Bradd raced to a 58-yard TD to answer Carson Joe’s 6-yard score with 6:05 remaining, the idea that an onside kick would be in the Panthers’ future was well off in the distance of Singler’s mind.

“Obviously when we scored early in the fourth quarter to make it a six-point game (27-21), I was really getting excited,” said the coach, “but then all of a sudden Bradd rips off a 50-yard run to put them up 13. That was discouraging but our kids held together, coaches kept everybody in line on the sideline and kept their focus and we ended up getting a big play to Carson Cota to get us back in it.”

Cota’s 60-yard catch and run on fourth-and-2 from the Panther 38-yard line breathed life into the possibility of a comeback, and quarterback Deacon Edgar followed with a 2-yard TD run to pull his team back within one possession with 1:53 to go.

Cota finished with four catches for 138 yards and a pivotal third-quarter TD, reminiscent of his big effort in last year’s rivalry game, and was a thorn in North’s side with his relentless pressure at defensive end. It was the senior’s sack of Tornado QB Colby Neron that ended the game after Neron had driven North to the South 36 with one second to play.

“No question that was the best game of his career, really,” Singler said of Cota. “I know he was excited to play in it and he made very big plays for us on both sides of the ball. He performed at his best when we needed it, and that was terrific for him.”

Also performing at his best was Edgar, a sophomore thrust into the spotlight with no upperclassman QBs on the roster to start the spring. With each game Edgar showed growth, but nothing compared to his final half of the season

After completing only 4 of 13 passes for 42 yards and an interception by Mason Warren to end the first half, Edgar came on strong in the second half to finish 13-for-24 for 225 yards thanks to big efforts by Cota as well as sophomore Andrew Walker (three catches, 45 yards, one TD).

“He’s improving every game,” Cota said of Edgar, who scored South’s final TDs on runs of 2 and 7 yards. ”They’ve got to watch out for him next year, he’ll be legit.”

Singler pulled Edgar aside for a one-on-one chat at halftime, stressing the importance of getting all the emotion out, relaxing and just playing ball in the second half, knowing that South was going to put the ball in his hands.

“Somehow, some way, he gathered himself and had the half of his life,” said Singler.

In doing so, he also helped stamp the 2021 spring game into Medford lore.

“When you’re in it long enough, which I have been for 43 years now, you’re going to see the big plays that go for you and the big plays that go against you,” said Singler. “I’ve been on both sides of those things, even here at South. Things had to go right for us in the second half and they did, but yet we put ourselves in position to do those kinds of things and make those kinds of plays. Leaning on what we did against Grants Pass the week before (in a 56-55 triple-overtime victory), the kids believed we could do it because they actually had already done it. Previous history helped us, too, but a lot of lady luck was a factor as well.”

South’s comeback trimmed North’s series lead to 18-17, with the Panthers moving to 12-11 in Singler’s tenure.

“Those are what the Black and Blue Bowl games are about: to have a rivalry, to have games that go down to the wire and to have both teams be competitive,” he said. “When I was hired that really was what was said, that there’s no reason you can’t have two big public schools be competitive but yet when I was hired, North had won in the ‘90s eight out of 10 games. That wasn’t right; it shouldn’t be that way. It should be where both teams are competitive and some years one team’s going to win and some years the other team’s going to win.”

And some years it’s going to be pandemonium.

Have a story idea? Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry