|#10 North Medford (8-2)|
|Reynolds (5-5) ... OT|
MEDFORD — There wasn't a doubt in Ryan Aldred's mind that his Reynolds football team was capable of scoring a state playoff victory for the second straight season.
Having upset South Medford a year prior in the very same stadium his Raiders would be facing 10th-seeded North Medford on Friday, brewing confidence for another fun road trip back home to Troutdale was noticeable as Reynolds rallied to take a 41-28 lead through three quarters in the Class 6A playoff opener.
But as became apparent in the epic back-and-forth affair, whoever had the football last was likely going to walk away victorious at Spiegelberg Stadium.
And that was North Medford.
The Black Tornado tied the game with 1:16 to play to send it to overtime, where it forced the visiting Raiders to turn the ball over on downs and then capped a wild comeback with a 25-yard, game-clinching touchdown pass from senior Brennan Stults to sophomore Bryce Dyer for a 55-49 overtime triumph.
The TD pass was Stults' seventh of the game, he finished 26-for-45 passing for 395 yards and one interception by senior Reggie Akles, who had a monster game of his own for Reynolds.
"Every time we step on the field on a Friday night we expect to win," Aldred said.. "We expect to compete that way and our kids competed for 48 minutes, and then for a couple additional ones. That's the expectation every night."
North Medford (8-2) used a 21-8 edge in the fourth quarter to give itself a chance at its first playoff victory since 2014.
"Oh my gosh, there were so many ups and downs," said Stults. "It was a lot of fun, the most fun I've ever had in a football game. We had to make plays when it mattered most, and that's what we did."
In the fateful overtime period, Reynolds (5-5) took the ball first but saw its hopes dashed when a fourth-and-three pitch by backup quarterback Brendon Lynch was a little behind running back Keedin Branch, who could only tip the ball with his back hand and then fall on it to signal the end of the Raiders' possession.
Stults then dropped back on the Tornado's first play of overtime from the 25-yard line and dropped a perfectly placed ball into the waiting arms of Dyer, who had gotten behind defensive back Emari Minor for the game-clinching touchdown.
"When he caught that, that was the happiest feeling I've ever felt in my body right there," said Stults. "That was a chance for my senior year to be over and that sophomore right there just saved my life."
As one would imagine, Dyer was pretty excited about it all, too.
"That was only my second catch on varsity and it was a pretty good one," said the 6-foot-3 sophomore, who had two catches for 32 yards Friday. "I don't think they get much better. It was a good way to start off my varsity career."
For all the positive vibes North Medford was feeling by taking a 21-6 lead early in the second quarter, Reynolds had the Black Tornado feeling on edge by scoring 28 straight points over the second and third quarters to build a 41-28 cushion heading into the fourth quarter.
Akles was a one-man wrecking crew during that outburst for Reynolds, scoring on a 33-yard pass from Dominique Miller, a 67-yard punt return and a 22-yard pass from Miller. Branch also had a 6-yard TD run in that span and finished with 121 yards rushing and two TDs on 21 carries.
"He's a good football player," Aldred said of Akles. "We've got a handful of good football players on this team and they all had to make a contribution in their own way tonight, and they did. That's a great (North Medford) football team over there. It's not the outcome we wanted but our kids battled and that's all you can ask from them."
When North Medford regained the lead, 42-41, with about five minutes to play on an answered prayer of a pass from Stults to Jett Carpenter, Miller went down to injury during the determined 48-yard scamper by Carpenter and never returned.
Reynolds withstood the loss of Miller when Akles took an option pitch from Lynch and raced 55 yards for yet another go-ahead score, but his presence was missed in the make-or-break overtime session.
"It was huge, losing Dom hurt," added Aldred. "His ability to do things with his legs was obviously big, but he also understands our offense quite well and it's hard to duplicate what he does."
Miles Wilson finished with 82 yards and one TD on 17 carries, while Miller ran nine times for 108 yards and completed 3 of 7 passes for 63 yards and two scores. The Raiders amassed 367 yards rushing on 55 carries and limited North Medford, which played without Southwest Conference-leading rusher Devin Bradd, to 46 yards rushing on 21 carries.
To even get the game into OT, Stults had to mount a 65-yard drive in the final four minutes of play and did that by spreading the ball around to Carpenter, Chance Costanzo and Josh Baptiste before ultimately finding pay dirt on a 9-yard strike to Carpenter with 1:16 left in regulation.
This story is slated to appear in our Tuesday, Nov. 12, print edition.
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