The football gods smile on the Black Tornado in a 14-9 victory

The Oregon City Pioneers dropped a heartbreaker at North Medford in Friday night’s second round of the Class 6A high school football playoffs.

Seventh-ranked North Medford prevailed 14-9, but the Black Tornado was fortunate to escape with the victory.

The tenth-ranked Pioneers penetrated inside the North Medford 20-yard line five times, but failed to score on three of the five penetrations. The Black Tornado had penetrations inside the Oregon City 20 on only two occasions.

Oregon City finished with a 385- to 246-yard advantage in total offense on the night.

North Medford put the winning points on the scoreboard with just 5:20 to play and the winning touchdown would not have been scored had it not been for a botched field goal play.

With North Medford trailing 9-8 and seven minutes to play, things looked good for the Pioneers when the Black Tornado lined up for an attempt at a 43-yard field goal. But the holder, junior quarterback Troy Fowler, mishandled the snap. Running around in a panic, he launched a prayer downfield to sophomore running back Will Spence, who leaped and came down with the ball, for a first down, at the Oregon City 8-yard line.

Three plays later, Fowler found junior running back Nick Janakes in a corner of the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown pass and a 14-9 Black Tornado lead.

There was no quit in the Pioneers. On their next possession, Oregon City quarterback Jon Hall launched a 44-yard bomb to Matthew Oades for a first down at the North Medford 14. Trevon Bradford pushed ahead to the Black Tornado 11, before Hall was sacked. The senior helmsman then came up empty on two attempted passes, and the Black Tornado dodged the bullet.

Oregon City got the ball back one more time, but handed the ball back at the North Medford 38 on downs as time was winding down.

North Medford scored its only other touchdown with 2:34 remaining in the second quarter, on a 38-yard pass from Fowler to Janakes. The touchdown was set up by a 34-yard punt return by Micah Brown. Fowler ran for the two-point conversion and an 8-0 lead.

Oregon City sustained its only successful drive to paydirt in the closing seconds of the first half. The 77-yard, nine-play drive included a 36-yard pass from Conner Mitchell to Tristan Birge on a fake punt. Mitchell took the ball in from eight yards out for the score. He successfully ran on a first attempt at a two-point conversion, but the play was ruled dead and called back when Mitchell lost his helmet through a Black Tornado face-mask infraction. A second attempt by Mitchell came up short, and the Pioneers went into the locker room trailing 8-6.

Valenzuela-Reece picked off a pass at the North Medford 41 early in the second half. And 11 plays later Alex Canchola split the uprights for a 37-yard field goal and a 9-8 Oregon City lead. But that was the last time the Pioneers would find the end zone.

North Medford came up short on a 40-plus-yard field goal attempt as the third quarter was winding down, for its only other threat.

The Pioneers muffed opportunities to score on their first two possessions of the game. They penetrated inside the 20 on their first possession, but Canchola’s attempt at a 26-yard field goal was blocked.

On their next possession, they penetrated deep, only to have a pass intercepted by Janakes at the North Medford 3.

Fowler connected on 13-of-21 attempted passes for 192 yards and the Black Tornadoes’ two touchdowns. North Medford netted only 54 yards in 21 rushing plays.

Mitchell led a Pioneer ground attack that netted 177 yards, rushing 25 times for 152 yards. Hall completed 12-of-31 passes for 118 yards, with the one costly interception. Oades had a big night, with six catches for 97 yards.

It was the tenth win in a row for North Medford, which fell to 14th-ranked McNary 20-13 in its season opener.

The win advanced the Black Tornado to a state quarterfinal game at second-ranked Tigard. The Tigers (11-0) hammered 15th-ranked Grants Pass, winning 62-3, in last week’s second round. It’s North Medford’s first appearance in a quarterfinal since 2005, when the Black Tornado lost to Lincoln 56-28.

With the loss, Oregon City finished with a 9-2 record, the most wins by an Oregon City High School varsity football team since 1996, when the Pioneers made the state final.

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