Needing a shot in the arm to boost its spirits after a disappointing loss last week to Thurston, South Medford's football team got that and more Friday night against undermanned South Eugene at Spiegelberg Stadium.
The Panthers were the beneficiaries of two safeties before they gained a single first down and allowed the Axemen inside their 20-yard line on only two occasions to gradually pull away for a 52-0 triumph.
"After you lose, everybody's a little more down and not as happy," said South Medford senior quarterback Joe McLaughlin, "but after you win 52-0 like this, it gets your confidence up a lot and hopefully we can keep that up."
The Panthers certainly will be put to the test next Friday when third-ranked Sheldon comes to town. The defending Southwest Conference champion dismantled North Medford 55-0 on Friday and seems to be hitting its stride in all phases of the game.
South Medford (3-1, 1-1 SWC) won't confuse itself with the Irish just yet, but the Panthers certainly made things happen on offense, defense and special teams against the Axemen (0-4, 0-2).
Eleven points were earned on special teams thanks to punt snaps that sailed into the end zone and a blocked punt by Jake Sager that was scooped up by Kyle Eller at the 2-yard line and carried into the end zone.
"We'll take anything that a team wants to give us," Panthers head coach Bill Singler said of the early snap miscues by South Eugene, which made it 4-0 a little over three minutes into the game.
On defense, Ben Casebier's interception set up a fourth-quarter TD and Grady Smith added another pick of Liam Duncan for good measure. The Panthers allowed only 168 yards of total offense, with only 42 yards gained on the ground despite 35 attempts.
The biggest change from last week, however, occurred on offense, where South Medford was able to rack up 233 yards on 32 carries and pass for 161 more despite using the services of four quarterbacks.
A decision was made to get junior Christian Bowley out of the backfield and into more situations where he could work in open space, and that seemed to pay big dividends against the Axemen. Bowley caught a pair of passes for 17 yards and carried the ball three times for 65 yards and two scores.
"We needed to do that," said Singler. "We've got to try to get him the ball in different ways instead of just having to carry the ball through the line of scrimmage. He caught the ball a couple times and made some good plays and ran the ball effectively a few times so that was good."
Bowley took an inside handoff and dipped behind a wave of blockers long enough to hit the corner and turn on the jets for a 48-yard TD run that put the Panthers up 18-0 in the second quarter. He duplicated the feat midway through the third quarter to make it 24-0 when he again raced untouched to pay dirt, this time from 22 yards.
"It's great that our line can open up those holes for us," said Bowley. "Coming around on the outside there was more space on the plays that we did do. It's great that our team could adapt to this type of play, too."
It's also great that the 5-foot-7 dynamo could move with ease back into the role that helped him burst on the scene last year before the Panthers tried for a more smash-mouth attack to open this season.
"Whatever helps our team out and makes us win games, that's what really matters, not where I'm getting the ball from," said Bowley.
Complementing that effort was a steady dose of hard running from tailbacks Nick Phillips and Casebier, who split time effectively before the junior varsity runners took over in the fourth quarter.
Phillips carried nine times for 78 yards, putting South Medford up 11-0 midway through the first quarter on a 24-yard scamper and then dodging outside behind a Bowley block for a 43-yard run to pay dirt to open the fourth. Casebier added 53 yards on 10 carries and had an 11-yard reception to help keep the chains moving.
Hudson Thomas darted around the corner and stumbled his way to a 21-yard TD to highlight the night for the reserves.
"We're still kind of a work in progress offensively but I think we made strides tonight," said Singler. "I liked our approach better, I thought our running game looked better and, in spots, we threw the ball decently."
The Panthers planned to give their entire stable of quarterbacks time under center against the Axemen, starting with McLaughlin and then giving way to sophomore Craig Contreras in the second quarter. Juniors Mark Winans and Brandon Lupton also got snaps in the second half.
McLaughlin completed 5 of 9 passes for 75 yards and lofted a perfect strike to senior Adrian Garcia for a 37-yard TD that made it 31-0 with 1:44 to go in the third quarter.
"I thought I overthrew the ball but Adrian went and got it," said McLaughlin. "Bill always tells us to try to stretch the receivers out on fades so I just tried to stretch him out and he started to run faster, I guess, and got it."
Contreras was solid in his varsity debut, completing 4 of 9 passes for 51 yards with one interception. Contreras found Josh Baugh in the back corner of the end zone for a short-lived 10-yard TD pass that was overturned on a holding penalty.
"Craig played good, which is nice because he has a bright future and a good arm," said McLaughlin. "We knew going in that we wanted to get all the quarterbacks in and I think it went pretty good."
Garcia finished with 80 yards and one score on four receptions, while Max Farthing hauled in two passes for 20 yards before the Panthers stopped taking to the air over the final quarter.
"That's where we're at right now, we've just got to keep working at it," Singler said of his team's attack that slowly seemed to build through the night. "There were a lot of positives that came out of tonight. Our defense obviously played well and pitched a shutout and I thought Joe McLaughlin, in a lot of ways, made some strides tonight and I'm really happy about that."
Duncan was 18-for-40 passing for 112 yards and two interceptions and drove the Axemen to the 5-yard line on their third series and to the 13 later in the second quarter.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry