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Tornado hangs on to deny Cavemen

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Out poured a sigh that carried equal parts relief and satisfaction from North Medford football coach Nathan Chin, and that pretty much said it all about the dramatic finish Friday for the Black Tornado at Mel Ingram Field in Grants Pass.

North Medford fended off a last-gasp rally by the host Cavemen to secure a fifth straight win in the series, 20-14, in a game that came right down to the wire.

“We like to make things interesting,” Chin chuckled as he prepped for a victorious ride home to Medford.

Only minutes before, Grants Pass had closed into the North Medford red zone and faced a fourth-and-4 from the Tornado 12-yard line with about 1 1/2 minutes remaining.

The Cavemen had previously been awarded a pass interference penalty to put themselves in prime position, but a similar pass by Jace Blanchard toward a crossing Troy Osborne was broken up by linebacker Jeremiah Robbins to allow the Tornado to escape with a third straight South/Central Football Conference victory.

“It just shows the grit that our kids have, regardless of which side of the ball needs to do it,” said Chin. “Obviously we sputtered a lot on offense in the second half — we moved the ball and just didn’t score it — and the defense stepped up big. They got the one fourth-quarter score there, but to be able to step up inside the red zone and get a stop on fourth down like that was huge.”

North Medford (3-2, 3-0 SCFC) had put itself in position to win in the longtime rivalry with a 51-yard touchdown run by Ty Pugliano in the second quarter to break a 7-all tie. On the play, the senior running back found open space in the middle behind a freeing block from David Fuiava at the second level and then shed a pair of would-be tacklers before racing into the end zone.

“I thought that we did a good job of being physical at the line of scrimmage,” said Chin. “We were able to run the ball between Ty and Diggy (Alexander Angulo) and really our front seven, if you add the two tight ends, was doing a great job of being physical on the attack. That obviously is our M.O. and we need to do that, but we also need to be more efficient in the passing game.”

After younger brother AJ Pugliano hauled in a pass over the middle by Caiden Lacey and galloped 52 yards before diving just short of the goal line late in the second quarter, Ty Pugliano finished off the scoring drive with a 1-yard sidestepping effort into the end zone that allowed North to take a 20-7 lead into halftime.

Ty Pugliano finished with 20 carries for 134 yards, while Angulo had 11 carries for 87 yards and Lacey completed 19 of 25 passes for 163 yards to go with a 5-yard TD run.

AJ Pugliano provided four catches for 63 yards, and the passing totals might have carried more of a “wow” factor had a long reception by Connor Cesaro not been called back due to penalty.

Grants Pass, however, did not give in one bit.

The Cavemen used a second TD connection between Blanchard and Jackson Tunick, this from 33 yards, to pull within one score late in the fourth quarter. Tunick had an 80-yard TD catch in the first quarter and another 68-yarder negated by penalty.

“Tunick’s a tough kid,” said Chin. “He’s a good, strong kid and he’s tough to tackle and he’s a good vertical ball guy. We knew Blanchard throws the ball well, he puts the ball up there and does a good job of throwing it deep and getting the ball out there for his guys to make a play.”

On this night, though, it was North Medford’s defense that was able to make the final big plays. Ty Pugliano had an interception earlier in the game and the Tornado forced and recovered a fumble as it looked like Trevor Reeves was destined for the end zone in the second quarter.

Raiden Takahashi and Malachi Kinyon also had an interception for GP, with Blanchard completing 17 of 36 passes for 295 yards as Tunick turned seven catches into 209 yards.

North Medford71300—20

Grants Pass7007—14

NM — Lacey 5 run (Knobloch-Scott kick)

GP — Tunick 80 pass from Blanchard (Leach kick)

NM — T. Pugliano 51 run (kick failed)

NM — T. Pugliano 1 run (Knobloch-Scott kick)

GP — Tunick 33 pass from Blanchard (Leach kick)

Have a story idea? Reach sports editor Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com or via Twitter @Kris_Henry

Ty Pugliano, North Medford football
Jeremiah Robbins, North Medford football
David Fuiava, North Medford football
Alexander Angulo, North Medford football