North Medford finds a way to win — again
By the time he crossed the goal line, Ty Pugliano was so exhausted he could barely celebrate.
And who could blame him?
With Pugliano’s North Medford team trailing 21-18 to Bend in the fourth quarter Friday after the Lava Bears’ Austin Baker grabbed a pick-six, Bend had the ball back in its possession and tried to run clock, not wanting to give the ball back to North.
On second down, Pugliano, a junior defensive back and running back, sized up Bend’s Jack Sorensen on an outside run, jarred the ball loose and recovered it for North with 2 minutes, 52 seconds remaining on the clock. More than two minutes later, the defensive hero became the offensive hero, as Pugliano scored from 3 yards out with 24 seconds left, delivering North a 25-21 win.
Although the Black Tornado’s offense had been inconsistent for much of the night, it marched down the field after converting a fourth and third down. Mixed in with a 14-yard completion from quarterback Mason Warren to tight end AJ Pugliano, it was Ty Pugliano taking the ball on four of North’s final five plays, including the go-ahead score on an outside handoff.
Offensive lineman David Fuiava ran toward his running back motioning for him jump up into his arms, but Ty Pugliano waved him off. Instead, his brother, AJ Pugliano, hoisted him up, but Ty Pugliano wasn’t celebrating just yet.
“When there’s three, two-and-a-half minutes left, you just gotta give everything you got,” said Ty Pugliano, still catching his breath after the game. “No matter how tired you are, (give) 100 percent. You’re going to be tired when you finally do get the outcome you want. I was just worried about those last 30 seconds and preserving my energy for that.”
As it turned out, the final 24 seconds wasn’t enough time for the Lava Bears to respond, as the clock expired after they ran their second play.
For the third straight week, North found a way to win on the heels of victories over Liberty and Sherwood that required late defensive stands.
“It’s just the belief, and it starts there,” North head coach Nathan Chin said. “When you have a group of people that believe no matter what they’re going to find a way, or somebody is going to find a way, and the trust that anybody on the field can possibly do it, that’s hard to beat. It’s something that you can’t explain — you just know. You have a group of people that believe in that way, and that’s this group. Without a doubt.”
Yet unlike North’s previous two wins, in which the team was protecting a late lead, the Black Tornado (3-1) was playing from behind for a long stretch Friday.
Bend took a 14-0 lead in the second quarter behind its strong double Wing-T rushing attack. Quarterback Seve Castillo ran in the first score, a 2-yard keeper up the middle, before Jack Sorensen put the exclamation point on a 12-play drive with a 10-yard rushing touchdown.
To that point, North’s three offensive drives had ended in a pair of turnovers on downs and a punt.
The Black Tornado was able to string together its best stretch late in the half with a 76-yard drive that ended with Warren faking a handoff and charging upfield for a 15-yard touchdown. Warren led the team in rushing with 101 yards, in addition to 184 yards and two touchdowns through the air.
Bend was set to receive the second-half kickoff from Warren, but a pop-up kick taken around the 25 was mishandled and ended up in the arms of North.
Two plays later, Warren connected with AJ Pugliano for a 23-yard score, but a failed two-point conversion kept Bend in front 14-12.
North forced a three-and-out on Bend after that, and was able to capture its first lead of the game when Warren led sophomore receiver Connor Cesaro streaking toward the back of the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown.
It was only Cesaro’s second game on varsity after the receiver filled in for an injured Caleb Yonker last week against Liberty.
“I’ve just been trying to learn the plays, Mason has been helping me out a lot, the coaches just believed in me and we got it done,” Cesaro said.
AJ Pugliano had a team-high six catches for 73 yards, while Cesaro hauled in five receptions for 68 yards. In addition to Warren’s rushing, Ty Pugliano tallied 57 yards on 16 carries.
North got through its non-conference schedule finding a way to beat teams in a variety of ways, but now it will enter its Southwest Conference schedule with more tests on the horizon, beginning next Friday with a road game at undefeated Roseburg.
“We haven’t played our best football and we’ve still been winning games,” Ty Pugliano said. “If we put a full game together, I’m confident we can beat anyone we play.”
B — Castillo 2 run (Castillo kick)
B— Sorensen (Castillo kick)
NM — Warren 15 run (kick blocked)
NM — AJ Pugliano 23 pass from Warren (run failed)
NM— Cesaro 25 pass from Warren (pass failed)
B — Baker 16 interception return (Castillo kick)
NM — T. Pugliano 3 run (Greisen kick)
Reach Will Denner at 541-776-4479 or firstname.lastname@example.org.