North Medford rolls to first SWC win
So much of North Medford’s first two Southwest Conference games were about chasing and chasing after falling behind.
There was none of that for the Black Tornado on Friday night.
Instead, North was the one setting the tone.
Getting three touchdowns from junior Ty Pugliano in the first half — two on offense, one on defense — North Medford set the early tone it had been seeking in its first two league games, jumping on Grants Pass early en route to a 51-7 victory at Spiegelberg Stadium.
“We know we can do this, we just have to execute for four quarters — and this is what happens,” said Pugliano, who finished with 180 yards on 15 carries. “We’ve held it down for two (quarters), we’ve held it down for three (quarters), but it’s nice when you can finally get it for four quarters and you don’t have to stress.”
Simply playing with the lead rather than having to come back and try to flip the score into its favor was a prime objective for North (4-3, 1-2 SWC) entering its final home game of the regular season.
And the Black Tornado did just that.
A lot of it came via the rushing attack, with North recording 403 of its 436 total yards on the ground.
“It’s big. We’ve been playing catch-up the last couple of weeks,” North Medford head coach Nathan Chin said. “The kids did a good job of coming out. The fear of senior and the emotions that go into senior day, the kids responded in a great way, and I’m super proud of them.”
The Black Tornado didn’t waste much time Friday night, getting points on all four of its first-half drives.
Pugliano gave North a 6-0 lead with a 4-yard touchdown run to cap an eight-play drive to open the game. After Grants Pass went three-and-out, North marched right down the field again, as Mason Warren connected with Kilohana Wailehua for a 23-yard TD to double the Black Tornado lead.
Pugliano made it three touchdowns on North’s first three drives early in the second quarter, recording his second 4-yard TD run of the first half.
“We challenged our O-line to push (Grants Pass) around in the run game and we knew we were going to be pounding the rock,” Pugliano said. “Defensively, we knew their game plan, we knew they were going throw the ball and our DBs stepped up.”
It was virtually the opposite amount of success for Grants Pass (1-7, 0-3) offensively to open the game.
The Cavemen, making their second trip to Spiegelberg in the span of three games, struggled mightily on offense in the first half. As North Medford took off with the lead, Grants Pass could only muster 54 yards of total offense in the opening half.
“That was nice. That was a good feeling,” Chin said of his team’s effort on defense. “Defensively, we’ve faced some pretty potent offenses and some quarterbacks who are extremely mobile. To have that kind of confidence going into the end of the season defensively was a real good feeling this week.”
Grants Pass running back Trevor Reeves momentarily stopped the bleeding with a 12-yard TD run to cut the deficit to 21-7 with 2:32 to go before halftime.
But North responded in a big way, first getting a 41-yard field goal from Brandon Dominguez and then seeing Pugliano pick off Grants Pass quarterback Jace Blanchard for a 30-yard pick-six with 32 seconds to go in the first half.
“When you can execute and it feels like everything is clicking, it’s just a good feeling,” Chin said. “But these kids, they had a good week and we’re really just trying to focus on doing things to a T, and it was nice to see them see the reward tonight.”
A sign of just how good the Black Tornado running game was: Warren had to throw the ball all of seven times the entire night, going 3-of-7 for 33 yards with an interception.
Warren scored on a pair of touchdown runs in the second half, while Atreaue Roe recorded North’s final TD of the night on a 15-yard run up the gut.
Warren finished with 62 yards on eight carries, while Alexander Angulo had seven carries for 70 yards.
“When you can do that and run the football and continue to plug away at it ... there’s no words,” Chin said. “Why put it in the air when you can keep handing the ball off to any of the guys that we put back there.”
Blanchard finished 10-of-25 for 92 yards and an interception.
In total, Grants Pass recorded 148 yards of total offense.
It was that kind of performance North was seeking knowing first, how it started SWC play, and second, the Black and Blue Bowl is lying in wait to wrap up the regular season next Friday.
“We were humbled by that,” Pugliano said of the back-to-back losses to Roseburg and Sheldon. “We could have won those games, but we couldn’t put it together four quarters. It gave us a little bit of optimism, too, because we had some bright spots in those games. But we really pulled it together tonight.”
NM — T. Pugliano 4 run (Dominguez kick miss)
NM — Wailehua 23 pass from Warren (Dominguez kick)
NM — T. Pugliano 4 run (Dominguez kick)
GP — Reeves 12 run (Anderson kick)
NM — FG Dominguez 41
NM — T. Pugliano 30 interception return (Dominguez kick)
NM — Warren 1 run (Dominguez kick)
NM — Warren 7 run (Dominguez kick)
NM — Roe 15 run (Dominguez kick)
Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.