South, GP face pivotal SWC clash
It doesn’t take much to get up for the annual meeting between the South Medford and Grants Pass football programs.
Panthers head coach Bill Singler just hopes his team will be better equipped to handle the Southwest Conference showdown this time around after a lackluster showing one year ago that led to his team’s worst offensive performance of the season.
South Medford and Grants Pass will meet at 7 p.m. Friday at Spiegelberg Stadium in the second-to-last week of the regular season. A win for either team would go far in clinching an automatic state playoff berth as a top-3 team in the SWC.
“We always get excited to play Grants Pass and I know Grants Pass gets excited to play us,” said Singler, “so it should be a good game and it’s an important one as well.”
“We have our work cut out for us on both sides of the ball,” he added. “Last year I know offensively was one of our worst outputs we’ve ever had so hopefully we won’t have a repeat of that.”
In other 6A action, North Medford plays at ninth-ranked Aloha. At the 5A level, longtime rivals square off when No. 4 Crater ventures to Eagle Point, with No. 6 Ashland at North Eugene.
In smaller school action, Phoenix is at North Valley, 3A fifth-ranked Cascade Christian at Brookings-Harbor and No. 10 St. Mary’s will host South Umpqua at U.S. Cellular Community Park.
One year ago, Grants Pass entered the game against South Medford with statistically the worst defense in the SWC but the John Musser-led Cavemen were still able to limit the Panthers to only 115 total yards and kept South’s offense out of the end zone for the first time that season in a 28-7 shocker. South’s lone touchdown came on a 55-yard punt return by Austin Boster.
While South Medford has won 14 of the last 19 meetings with Grants Pass, the Cavemen have gotten the better of things in recent series history with a 4-2 mark in the past six contests.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge and getting back to playing our brand of football this week,” said Singler, whose team is coming off a 34-14 loss at 10th-ranked Sheldon.
South Medford (5-2, 1-1 SWC) and Grants Pass (4-3, 1-1) each enter the game with prolific offensive attacks that feature passing games that create headaches for opposing defenders. The Panthers have averaged 353 yards and 28 points per game, while the Cavemen rank second in the SWC with 413 yards and 32 points per game.
“They are very explosive on offense,” said Singler. “This should be a pretty dynamic game.”
Grants Pass had leaned on the strong arm of senior quarterback Chase Coyle until he was lost in the second half of an Oct. 11 game against North Medford. Coyle avoided serious injury with a sprained collarbone and missed last week’s 21-15 win over Westview but very well could be back Friday.
“I’m sure he’s chomping at the bit to get back on the field,” said Singler.
Coyle has completed 57 percent of his passes for 1,493 yards, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. In his place, junior Hunter Gonzalez came on to rally GP in the fourth quarter against North before ultimately falling 34-27. Last week, Gonzalez completed 18 of 30 passes for 264 yards, two TDs and two interceptions.
Spurring the offense is a deep receiving corps led by Joel Valadez, who ranks second to Boster in SWC receiving with 37 catches for 686 yards and six scores. Devik Chiang (23 catches, 378 yards, four TDs) and Jett Hood (20 catches, 226, three TDs) also serve as prime targets, along with running backs Jake Henricks and Spencer Sloan.
Henricks also ranks second in SWC rushing with 574 yards and five TDs on 89 carries, while Sloan has come on strong as of late to reach 290 yards and four TDs (three against North) on 47 carries.
“They run a lot of screens so you have to be ready to cover the field horizontally,” said Singler, “and they have enough speed to get the ball deep as well. They really have the ability to strike from anywhere on the field so they do cause you concern with all the skill kids they have. We have to be on our best behavior, get lined up correctly and can’t let anybody go uncovered because they’ll find them.”
South Medford’s defense has limited teams to 299 yards and 19 points per game thus far.
Offensively, Panthers quarterback Toren Tuttle used Coyle’s one-game absence to take over the lead in SWC passing at 1,507 yards. He has completed 62 percent of his passes for 19 TDs and four interceptions and also averages 5.5 yards per carry.
Despite seeing extra attention by opposing defenses, Boster has amassed 703 yards receiving and 11 TDs to lead the league but is far from a one-man show on the perimeter. Trey Alvarez (21 catches, 249 yards, four TDs), Carson Cota (14 catches, 201 yards, two TDs) and Mitchell Walker (13 catches, 158 yards, two TDs) have each played big roles in the passing game.
“We’re coming off a loss and want to get back in the win column and we expect the kids to come out and play hard,” said Singler. “It’s senior night and that gives us an added incentive to play hard for all the seniors, and I know the seniors want to do the same for themselves and their families and the team themselves so it should be fun.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry