Crater edges South in season opener
No fans in the stands, no cheerleaders or band to pep up the cold night air and not one moment that the rain didn’t steadily fall, and yet none of that could dampen the spirit of those on the sidelines Friday night.
Crater and South Medford finally capped the longest offseason in Oregon high school football with a season-opening matchup that, while it lacked some offensive fireworks, made up for it with defensive intensity from both sides as the Comets eked out a 9-6 win at Spiegelberg Stadium.
Making his first start after serving as backup to Trever Davis the past two seasons, Crater senior quarterback Blake Eaton tossed a game-tying touchdown pass to Dawson Douglas and converted a 28-yard field goal in the final minute of the first half to supply the winning margin.
The win marked the first at Spiegelberg Stadium since 1999 for the Comets (1-0), who had not played South Medford (0-1) since 2013 after moving back to the Class 5A level. In 25 meetings now, the Panthers hold a 19-6 advantage.
“This is huge,” said Eaton of the victory. “We’ve all been working really hard for 15 months for this. Every day we just grind and grind and grind, and we finally came out and got a win. We’ve got some things to clean up for next week, but I’m happy for this one, really happy.”
Eaton didn’t know it at the time, but his wobbly field goal with 49 seconds to play in the first half would be the deciding factor once all was said and done Friday. It wasn’t exactly a thing of beauty, but it sailed between the uprights and that was all that mattered to Eaton.
“I just kind of kicked it and it went wonky in the air,” he said. “Right when I kicked it I knew it was good, but it was definitely stressful.”
The whole night proved to be stressful for first-year Crater head coach Berk Brown, who ascended to the top spot after serving as the team’s defensive coordinator the past few years.
“When you win a game 9-6 like that, that was a battle,” said Brown. “That thing was tight the whole second half. The defense came up big and the offense moved the ball to put us in a position to have great field position and force them to do some things they didn’t want to do. We knuckled down when we needed to knuckle down.”
Neither team managed much offense on this night, partially due to sure-handed tackling and partially due to the elements.
Eaton completed 15 of 25 passes for 173 yards with one interception, but the Comets were only able to gain 40 yards on 26 attempts on the ground.
“I was really impressed with our defense,” said South Medford head coach Bill Singler. “Playing a really good offense and kids that have put a lot of points on the board and got to the state championship last year, I thought our defense did a good job.”
Conversely, South Medford ran 27 times for 129 yards — with senior Garrett Henderson chiming in with 88 yards and one TD on 12 carries — but could not get much going through the air as sophomore Deacon Edgar completed 2 of 9 passes for 12 yards.
“Offensively we’re still trying to find ourselves,” said Singler. “A summer camp usually gives you an opportunity to kind of find what your identity is going to be so we’re going to probably be a couple two or three games to find out what our identity is going to be.”
Thrust into action with no upperclassmen at the quarterback position, Edgar became the first Day 1 sophomore starter since Boomer Marshall began his heralded run in 2000. Edgar added 10 yards rushing on six carries.
“I thought for a first start for a kid like that he did fine,” said Singler. “He missed some things early in the game that he could’ve done possibly but, you know what, the kid hung in there. He’s a competitor and all’s not lost. We’ve just got to go watch the tape and get better.”
The night couldn’t have started much better for the Panthers, with Henderson ripping off a 50-yard run on the game’s first play. That drive, however, stalled when Edgar’s fourth-down run left him just short of the first down marker at the Crater 6-yard line.
Charlie Campbell and the Panthers’ defense bowed their backs and pinned Crater eventually to its own 1-yard line, and Trevor Jaasko’s punt from the back of his end zone only sailed 12 yards to immediately put South back in business.
On the next play, Henderson burst through the middle of the defense and then took flight as a pair of Comets bore down on him to cap a 13-yard scoring run with his dive into the end zone.
South Medford forced another punt on Crater’s next possession, only this time Jaasko’s sailing effort glanced off a Panther blocking downfield and immediately into the waiting arms of Eaton, who sprinted right into the ball after serving as long-snapper.
Four plays after taking over at the South Medford 33-yard line, Douglas shook his defender and created space on the right edge of the end zone for Eaton’s game-tying pass. The Southern Oregon University-bound Douglas finished with seven receptions for 87 yards to lead all receivers.
“The punt return snafu where it hit us and gave them a chance for a touchdown obviously hurt us,” said Singler.
Crater’s ensuing two-point conversion attempt was snuffed out by Campbell, who wrapped up Eaton after he double-clutched on a pass and tried to run the ball in.
Neither team had much opportunity to score in the second half, with Kaleb Barney breaking on a pass for an interception of Eaton and an Edgar pitch glancing off Henderson’s shoulder for a fumble recovered by Vincent Cottini.
The Comets got strong play from their linebacker corps, led by junior Caden Lasater, while Carson Cota and Liam Stedman each had key sacks for the Panthers.
CRATER 9, SOUTH MEDFORD 6
SM — Henderson 13 run (kick blocked)
C — Douglas 13 pass from Bl. Eaton (run failed)
C — FG Bl. Eaton 28
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