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Cavemen use Buddy system to turn season around

Reinvigorated Grants Pass meets South Medford tonight at Spiegelberg Stadium

Three games into the high school football season, the Grants Pass High football team was put on life support.

The Cavemen were 0-3 and had just come off a 21-10 loss to Wilson High of Portland ' a bad team in a bad league.

There was talk that GP might not win a game.

Then head coach Tom Blanchard turned to a good Buddy to run what had been a woefully inept offense. Buddy Saxon, a 6-foot-4, 185-pound sophomore, took over at quarterback in Game 4 and ' presto ' the Cavemen's troubles were in the rearview mirror.

— Saxon completed 8 of 11 passes for 159 yards and three touchdowns in his first start ' a shocking 47-14 victory over Canby ' and then directed Grants Pass to 31-14 and 35-12 wins over Eagle Point and Ashland, respectively.

Suddenly, the Cavemen are 2-0 in the Southern Oregon Conference ' tied with Roseburg atop the standings ' and 3-3 overall entering today's game against South Medford (1-4, 1-1) at Spiegelberg Stadium.

Kickoff is 7 p.m.

In other SOC games, seventh-ranked Roseburg (4-1, 2-0) travels to Crater (3-3, 1-2) and Ashland (4-2, 1-2) visits Eagle Point (3-3, 0-3). North Medford has the night off.

When the kids believe you have a chance because your quarterback is making plays, it makes a big difference, says Grants Pass coach Tom Blanchard. Buddy's a big, bright, athletic kid who's already proved he can win games at the varsity level.

We're asking him to do more and more each week, and he's responding.

Blanchard doesn't have to ask Saxon to carry the entire load, however. Grants Pass already had a strong running attack fueled by junior Craig Dolmage, the SOC's leading rusher with 646 yards and six touchdowns. And it had a stout defense, anchored by end John Ray, nose tackle Ben Hughes and linebacker Mark Stork.

All the Cavemen needed was a QB who could make a few big plays and not turn the ball over, and they found their man in Saxon, who's completed 27 of 46 for 364 yards, four touchdowns and just one interception in his three starts.

Saxon ranks third in the SOC in pass efficiency.

Our defense has played tough all along ' it's just that they were put in some horrible positions those first three games, says Blanchard. The offense kept going three-and-out or coughing up the ball.

The Cavemen seemingly have all the impetus heading into tonight's game, but Blanchard is leery of South Medford. The Panthers, hindered by injuries and bad luck, suffered a 20-19 loss to North Medford last Friday when the Black Tornado scored the winning touchdown with 11 seconds to play.

Two weeks earlier, Lake Oswego scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion in the final seconds to secure a 15-14 victory. Lake Oswego crushed Grants Pass, 35-7, on Sept. 9.

They're a dangerous team, says Blanchard of the Panthers.

South Medford's injury woes continued this week with the loss of wide receiver Michael Harthun (shoulder separation) and starting guard Johan Holtz (sprained knee ligaments). The team was already without standout running back/linebacker Ryan Odell (knee) and starting fullbacks Sean Enloe (neck) and Ken Licea (suspended).

But, on a positive note, quarterback Kyle Singler is finally rounding into form. The 6-8, 210-pound sophomore will get his first start of the season after a strong second-half performance against North Medford in which he threw for 140 yards and one touchdown and ran for another score.

Singler missed the first three games and most of the fourth with torn knee cartilage suffered in basketball.

His play in the second half last week gave us a chance to win and something to build on, says his head coach and uncle, Bill Singler. Kyle's a tall, rangy athlete who can see over the line of scrimmage or throw from the pocket, and yet he's mobile enough to throw on the run or just take off with the ball upfield.

We're anxious to see what he can do now that he's had a half-game under his belt.

South Medford should present a balanced attack thanks to the emergence of Dan Welcome, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in back-to-back games.

The Panthers have won the last five matchups with the Cavemen, including a 21-14 verdict last season at Mel Ingram Field.

ROSEBURG AT CRATER ' First-year Crater coach John Beck admits his team will need to play a near-perfect game to upset the SOC favorite.

The Comets did a lot of good things in their 36-32 win over Eagle Point last Friday, but a season-high 12 penalties for 74 yards left a dark cloud on the performance.

We can't have that happen this week, says Beck.

The key for the Comets will be how their offensive and defensive lines hold up against a massive Roseburg front that includes 295-pound tackles Morgan Heard and Ryan Caddock.

The Indians also feature two physical backs in 195-pound Jimmy Zhu, the SOC's third-leading rusher with 586 yards and four touchdowns, and 205-pound fullback David Russell, who ranks 11th in rushing (265 yards) and fourth in scoring (eight touchdowns, 48 points).

Our defensive line has to stay low and get off blocks, says Beck.

As if Roseburg needed an extra weapon, Kyle Loomis might be the top placekicker and punter in the state. The strong-legged senior averaged 52 yards on three punts and hammered all four of his kickoffs out of the end zone in the Indians' 20-7 win over Ashland on Sept. 30. Roseburg had a bye last Friday.

We gave him our defensive player of the week award, says Roseburg coach Thurman Bell. What he gives us in field position is huge.

ASHLAND AT EAGLE POINT ' Both teams badly want a win after falling on hard times recently. Eagle Point has lost three straight following a 3-0 start, while Ashland has lost two in a row following a 4-0 start.

Ashland starting quarterback Sam Littleton is expected to miss tonight's game with a strained knee ligament incurred during last Friday's 35-12 loss to Grants Pass. Starting tailback Dylan Steeves, who missed the GP game but remains fifth in the SOC in rushing with 387 yards, remains questionable with a twisted knee.

Eagle Point tailback Kris Butler, meanwhile, figures to be at or near full strength. Butler suffered a sprained ankle two weeks ago but returned last Friday against Crater and scored two touchdowns on just four carries. He pulled down a 10-yard pass for a third TD.

Butler has rushed for 365 yards and eight touchdowns on the season.

He looks a lot better in practice, says Eagle Point coach Harry Hedrick of Butler. We're hoping to get him the ball a little more. He makes our offense a lot more explosive because, with his speed, he can turn a short run into a long one.

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail Cavemen use Buddy system to turn season around"dhunt@mailtribune.com