Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
Whether it was from satisfaction, sheer relief or a combination of the two, Bill Singler couldn't suppress a wry smile in the aftermath of the defensive battle waged between his South Medford football team and Grants Pass Friday at Spiegelberg Stadium.
In a game where both sides had to earn every yard, the Panthers came up with more big plays than the visiting Cavemen in a 10-7 triumph that featured more grit than glitz.
"It wasn't pretty but it was pretty enough so we'll take it," said Singler after his team earned its 12th win over GP in the last 13 meetings.
South Medford recorded five interceptions — two each by Adrian Garcia and Max Farthing and the other by Eric Wallan — and used a wrecking ball linebacker corps of Pat Alexander, Joel Goin and Anthony Gomez to stifle one of the Southwest Conference's top offenses.
Grants Pass (3-4, 3-2 SWC) entered the game averaging 37 points and 368 yards but was held scoreless until 6:40 left in the contest and gained only 217 total yards. Anthony Mattie, the SWC's second-leading rusher, was limited to 71 yards on 21 carries.
"All year our front seven has just played great and, of course, the secondary ... anytime you throw the ball up we've got athletes back there who can go after the ball," said Singler, whose team improved to 5-2 overall and 3-2 in SWC play.
Three of the Panthers' interceptions were made in the end zone to deny the Cavemen, who had chances to gain the upper hand in the first half but routinely were turned away. Three of the first four times quarterback Hunter Rich targeted speedy senior receiver Riley Veritch ended in turnovers. Rich had thrown only four interceptions entering the game.
"We left points out there," said Grants Pass head coach John Musser. "I was telling people all week that it was going to be a game of special teams and turnovers and for sure it was."
"They had us off balance, Bill always does that though," he added. "He knows exactly what you're going to run before you run it it seems like."
Riley Williams' 38-yard field goal for South Medford with 1:09 to go in the first half were the only points in a somewhat sloppy opening 24 minutes.
The second half brought about a more effective effort by South Medford's offensive line and some dedicated running by senior Nick Phillips to help pave the way to victory. Phillips set the tone early by bursting through the middle for a 21-yard gain on South's first play of the third quarter, tucking behind right tackle Joe Cooney for additional yards downfield.
Two plays later, Garcia soared over GP's Kellen Brown in the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown reception from senior quarterback Joe McLaughlin and a 10-0 Panther lead.
South Medford had another potential scoring drive snuffed out on a fumble by McLaughlin that was recovered by Kyle Miller at the GP 22, and an interception by Brown in the end zone denied another scoring chance. Although both drives fell short, damage was being done by the Panthers' running game — mostly through Phillips' efforts — to control the clock and keep the Cavemen at bay.
Phillips finished with 138 yards on 21 carries, gaining all but 28 yards in the second half.