Late surge before half helps Irish separate in battle of league leaders
North Medford proved early on that it certainly would be no pushover Friday night in a battle of South/Central Football Conference co-leaders against Sheldon.
But to pin the first loss this season on the top-ranked Irish, Black Tornado head coach Nathan Chin knew his team had to be almost flawless at Spiegelberg Stadium.
Unfortunately for Chin and company, North Medford saw a second-quarter scoring drive stall at the Sheldon 1-yard line and an interception and fumble later in the quarter lead to the Irish scoring twice in a matter of seconds to separate for an eventual 42-6 triumph.
“What ended up being the demise to a certain extent was just mistakes,” said Chin. “We didn’t execute and that was a big key for us. We didn’t execute all the way through and against good teams, you just can’t have that.”
Sheldon (7-0, 5-0 SCFC) used a 74-yard touchdown pass from Brock Thomas to Teitum Tuioti to open the scoring but North Medford (4-3, 4-1) fought right back with a patient and powerful drive.
Senior running back Ty Pugliano punctuated the 84-yard drive, spurred by a pair of big connections to younger brother AJ Pugliano from JT Knobloch-Scott, with a 3-yard TD run to make it 7-6 after the PAT was blocked.
“There’s no doubt that’s the kind of start we wanted and that’s the kind of physicality we wanted to play with,” said Chin of the early answer. “I think we did a good job of the simple things. We were putting a hat on a hat and able to run the ball and getting behind people. We made some real easy, quick throws that JT did a good job of completing and our guys did a good job of making a run after the catch.”
Sheldon fired right back with a 56-yard TD reception by Zach McEwen and North appeared to be in trouble of watching the same landslide that took out South Medford a week ago when a fumbled kickoff put the Irish in the red zone right away.
Thankfully, senior defensive back DeAndre Card made a perfect read on a trick pass by receiver (and backup QB) Cade Welch and stepped in front of Thomas for an interception and return back into Sheldon territory.
Ty Pugliano tucked in behind punishing blocks from Connor Trinca and Terrell Kim on the left side to get North down to the Sheldon 1, but the Irish bowed their backs and came up with the stop as North couldn’t gain ground on fourth-and-goal.
The defense for both teams took over in the ensuing couple series, but an interception by Nikko Klemm on a pass that sailed too high toward AJ Pugliano gave Sheldon some energy and the Irish responded with a 64-yard drive, capped by a 1-yard TD run by Thomas, to go up 21-6 with 47.6 seconds remaining in the first half.
On North’s next play from scrimmage, the snap sailed past Knobloch-Scott, who wasn’t ready for it quite yet, and Sheldon recovered just outside the Tornado goal line. Lineman Josh Merriman, inserted into the backfield, bulled his way in from there to make it 28-6 on the next play.
“You can’t give a team who’s explosive on offense short fields,” said Chin. “We needed to be able to score when we were down there on the goal line and went for it on fourth down. It felt like we were getting a good enough push so we went for it. Unfortunately we didn’t get it and then when we throw the pick and fumble the snap, that gives them 14 points and really just turns into a 21-point swing.”
That swing took the air out of North’s sails a little heading to the locker room.
“It’s tough to recover from,” said Chin, “but our kids were positive coming out of halftime and felt like we had a plan but when it came down to it, we still didn’t execute quite to the extent that we needed to in order to get back in it.”
An interception by Mana Tuioti on the first drive of the third quarter led to a 17-yard TD pass by Thomas, who later added a 43-yard score to his older brother for the final tally.
Knobloch-Scott completed 12 of 22 passes for 107 yards with two interceptions, with AJ Pugliano hauling in five passes for 49 yards and Ty Pugliano running 13 times for 56 yards before getting dinged up and not playing offense in the second half. Alexander Angulo picked up where he left off with 11 carries for 39 yards and had three catches for 29 yards.
“Regardless of either side of the ball, our guys up front did a really, really good job of either putting pressure on the quarterback or blocking,” said Chin. “It’s fun to watch and we’ve got to keep building on that.”
“I’m proud of our kids for fighting and battling,” he added. “It’s definitely not the outcome that we wanted but I think we can take some things out of this and learn from it. If we get more opportunities going down the stretch, we’ve got to take better advantage.”
Thomas was 19-for-33 for 357 yards, with Teitum Tuioti catching four balls for 142 yards.
S — T. Tuioti 74 pass from Thomas (Graziano kick)
NM — T. Pugliano 3 run (kick blocked)
S — Z. McEwen 56 pass from Thomas (Graziano kick)
S — Thomas 1 run (Graziano kick)
S — Merriman 1 run (Graziano kick)
S — Peters 17 pass from Thomas (Graziano kick)
S — T. Tuioti 43 pass from Thomas (Graziano kick)
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Photo by Denise Baratta. North Medford junior AJ Pugliano runs for a gain during the first quarter against Sheldon.
Photo by Denise Baratta. North Medford senior running back Ty Pugliano makes his way toward the end zone against Sheldon.
Photo by Denise Baratta. Sheldon’s Brock Thomas is chased down and forced into an incompletion to avoid a sack by AJ Pugliano of North Medford.
Photo by Denise Baratta. North’s JT Knobloch-Scott passes for a completion early in the first quarter against Sheldon.
Photo by Denise Baratta. North Medford defenders Jeremiah Robbins (9) and Ty Carpenter (1) force Sheldon quarterback Brock Thomas out of bounds on the North Medford sideline.
Photo by Denise Baratta. North Medford’s DeAndre Card flies over Sheldon ball-carrier Luke Leighton after he was brought down short of the goal line by Antonio Martinez