North Medford High wrestling coach Phillip Lopez isn't the type to get carried away.
More pristine boys soccer matches have definitely been played between South Medford and South Eugene, but Tuesday's season opener at South Medford High certainly served a purpose for each squad.
The early season meeting has become commonplace between two of the state's top-tier programs, acting as somewhat of a measuring stick since the Panthers and Axemen have each advanced to three championship finals since 1997 and combined for four titles.
On Tuesday, South Medford learned the hard way that it has some growing to do in order to build for yet another postseason run.
South Eugene took advantage of a pair of Panther miscues to break a 1-all tie in the second half and secure a 3-1 nonleague victory.
"It was a good first contest for us," said South Medford head coach Dave Kaufman. "It kinda gave us a taste of what we have and what we need to work on."
"From the coaches' perspective," he added, "we know that we have seven impactful starters that we have to replace. We're very skilled and we're young and inexperienced, but I saw more good today than I did bad. I think this will be a game that we can build on. I can always take a little positive away from the negative."
South Eugene followed its traditional path to a quick advantage only five minutes into the match, with the taller, more physical Axemen creating chaos with their frenzied style. Using their height advantage on a nice set piece, Casey Chubbs-Fertal converted off an assist from Kirk Bassett for the 1-0 lead.
That score held up through halftime before South Medford managed to gain an equalizer after senior Jairo Carillo beat his defender down the left wing and then played the ball back to junior Uriel Cordoba just inside the 18-yard box. Cordoba didn't hesitate with a crisp shot into the back of the net.
"He hit it the first time and it was just a great finish," said Kaufman. "In the system we play, we produce a lot of goals that way, we're a little more methodical. We started to get some momentum and created some really good chances and then finally finished that one."
The energy gained from the tying goal six minutes into the second half was negated five minutes later when sophomore goalkeeper Hunter Soper made an errant pass that resulted in South Medford committing a foul just outside the penalty box to deny the Axemen an easy opportunity.
Given a second chance with a free kick, South Eugene's Cian Cronin sent the ball toward the goal and Daniel Krueger won a scramble for the ball and deposited the go-ahead goal into the net.
That 2-1 advantage was extended five minutes later on another miscue, with Soper unable to clear the ball near his end. The goalkeeper's kick went right to South Eugene's Juan Salgado, who capitalized on the opportunity with an easy goal.
"That pretty much put it out of harm's way at that point with about 20 minutes to go," said Kaufman. "From that point forward we battled, but it was a tough deficit to come back from. I was pleased with the overall team effort though because South Eugene is good."
South Eugene head coach Jurgen Ruckaberle noted some rough edges for both teams but said each team stands to gain from opening against a solid opponent.
"You could definitely tell it was the first game for both teams, people weren't as sharp and organized," said Ruckaberle, whose team advanced to the state quarterfinals a year ago. "But the longer the game went, I think both teams improved. I think both teams will be much better in the weeks to come."