MEDFORD — Playing his first game at safety, Malden’s Jensen Ayuk picked a fine time to play the best game of his career.
The senior captain returned an interception for a touchdown and forced a fumble that resulted in a safety to lead the Golden Tornadoes to a 16-0 victory over Medford in the 126th Thanksgiving Day rivalry at Hormel Stadium.
“He had the game of his life in his last high school football game,” said Malden coach John Pappagallo. “It was awesome to see him have that success.”
Malden marched 72 yards on the ground in just over four minutes on the game’s opening possession. The drive was capped by a 20-yard touchdown run by senior Raymond Sainristill, who ran for 43 yards on the drive, giving Malden a quick 6-0 lead.
“This was probably the first time this year we weren’t really physically overmatched size-wise,” Pappagallo said. “We were able to get off the ball and get some push up front and open some holes up.”
The Malden defense, and the elements, combined to make things difficult for Medford. The Mustangs were held to one first down in the first half. Four of their drives went just three plays. A stiff wind and a few drops limited the passing attack, and the Golden Tornadoes stifled Medford’s running game.
Just before halftime, momentum changed in favor of Malden thanks to Ayuk.
On a third and long deep in its territory with 15 seconds left, Medford tried to run the clock out. But Ayuk lowered his shoulder to deliver a big hit that knocked the ball free. Players from both sides tried to dive on it, but the ball went through the end zone for a safety as time expired.
“This was my first game at safety so I’ve been watching a lot of “YouTube’’ to see how safeties move from the outside, so I just had a good read and made a good play,” Ayuk said.
Malden moved the ball behind a dominant running attack led by Sainristill, who ran for 117 yards.
Ayuk put the game away midway through the third quarter, cutting across the middle to intercept a pass at the Mustang 32-yard line. He raced down the sideline for a touchdown to give Malden a two-possession lead.
“I dropped back into coverage and saw the ball come my way, I got a couple good blocks and I knew I had it the whole way,” Ayuk said.
Malden won its seventh straight in the rivalry and the victory capped a season in which Malden reached the playoffs. Pappagallo has high hopes next season.
“We’ve always been undersized this whole year, and these guys have a lot of fight and a lot of heart in them.”