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Crater preps for GP; North, South travel in Week 2

The celebration was real after the Crater Comets scored a rare win over South Medford at Spiegelberg Stadium last Friday.

It was also real short.

With a stout Grants Pass squad coming to Central Point for Week 2, fresh off an agonizing loss to North Medford in the waning seconds of their opener, Crater head coach Berk Brown knows there’s no time to rest on any laurels.

“I’m expecting them to make some really big improvements from Week 1 to Week 2 and really give us some fits,” Brown said of the Cavemen. “It’s going to be a great challenge, and we’re up for it.”

Crater was certainly up to the challenge last Friday when it held on for a 9-6 win over the Panthers in a defensive battle that saw neither team able to mount much consistent offense.

The Comets allowed only 141 yards of total offense to their former Southern Oregon Conference foes, but managed 213 yards of offense on their own — about a third coming on two downfield passes from senior quarterback Blake Eaton, one each to Dawson Douglas and Dylan Ennis.

“We were ecstatic with the victory,” said Brown. “We didn’t play our best game, by any stretch of the imagination, and full credit to South because they had a great game plan and did some things that caused some issues for us on offense.”

“We feel like we missed some opportunities to put some more points on the board,” he added, “so we’re excited to see how much better we can improve from Week 1 to Week 2.”

That theme is echoed throughout all the area football teams that were finally able to don pads for competitive play last week. In other 6A/5A games Friday, North Medford travels to face Tualatin, South Medford is at Roseburg and Eagle Point hosts Mazama.

In 4A action, Phoenix is home against Henley while the Holy Bowl returns for its 21st meeting as 3A Cascade Christian and St. Mary’s square off at U.S. Cellular Community Park.

Defense will again be at the forefront for Crater (1-0) against a Grants Pass squad that is bigger in the trenches and has a dangerous backfield combination in Jayden Brown, who ran for 91 yards and two scores last week, and Spencer Sloan, who was a key contributor last year and equally capable.

Senior Jett Hood also broke a big play last week in the backfield for a touchdown and finished with 74 yards on the ground for the Cavemen (0-1).

Against South Medford, defensive end Jimmy Jordahl was a force to be reckoned with as he continually applied pressure on the edge, while senior linebacker Angel Perez was a thorn in the side with his sure-tackling and ability to shoot the gaps and senior transfer Eriq Rodriguez from Ashland joined Trevor Jaasko in a few key pass deflections to deny a Panther comeback.

Vincent Cottini and William Woitte also did a good job of occupying blockers at the line of scrimmage to allow linebackers such as Caden Lasater and Jaden Fliegel to fly in for some key stops.

“We take a lot of pride in running to the football,” said Brown. “Ever since I’ve become a defensive coordinator, I’ve always told my teams that I don’t care if we lead the state in sacks or yards per game or interceptions or fumble recoveries, I’m more interested in a stat that you won’t read in any paper and that’s effort. When we play with the kind of effort we did last Friday, I think the results can continue to be what they were. I can’t stress enough to our kids that playing with great effort can fix any schematic or technical mistake you make on defense.”

Grants Pass quarterback Hunter Gonzales found it rough going against North Medford’s talented secondary one week ago, completing only 6 of 17 passes for 67 yards with three interceptions, and will be looking to dial up more big plays to leading receivers Devik Chiang and Dante Haven in Week 2.

The Cavemen led 20-19 with eight minutes to play before watching North Medford successfully navigate 96 yards in the final minutes for a game-winning TD.

“They lost a tough one to North and had every chance of winning that game as North did,” said Brown. “When you go step for step with a team that some think is the best team in 6A statewide, you’re doing something right.”

NORTH MEDFORD AT TUALATIN: North Medford head coach Steve Turner said the typical first-game jitters played factors for both teams last week but he was pleased to see his squad rally together and remain confident to secure its 27-20 comeback win at Grants Pass.

“They put everything else out of their mind, they wanted to win, so everything was channeled into getting their job done as best as they could together so that we could score,” Turner said of the fateful 96-yard final drive. “During adverse times, sometimes that falls apart and it didn’t, and that’s what pleased me more than anything.”

Senior quarterback Colby Neron was extremely efficient in completing 10 of 14 passes for 153 yards and three touchdowns, two to Chance Costanzo and one with 21 seconds to play to junior Bryce Dyer for the winning score.

Devin Bradd also came up big on the final drive and certainly others, finishing with 123 yards rushing, and was helped along by a good offensive line push and the lead blocking of Jayden Sandusky.

In Tualatin, North Medford (1-0) gets a shot at redemption against the team that bounced the Black Tornado out of the 2019 state playoffs in the second round, 50-35.

“I think that’s run across a few of their minds,” noted Turner.

Tualatin (0-1) is coming off a 37-6 loss to West Linn, expected to be one of the state’s top teams this spring, and features strong-armed quarterback Jackson Jones and a physical line similar to that of Grants Pass. Linebackers Casey Raz and Max Clanton join linemen Junnie Belisile and Evan Morales in making it difficult for their opposition.

This Week 2 matchup was made last Thursday to fill a gap for each but will continue a trend for North Medford, which plays only one true home game this season in six weeks. The Black Tornado is the visiting team against South Medford this year.

“We want to play good teams,” said Turner. “We played a really good team last Friday and we’re going to be play a really good team this Friday. It’s kind of like, ‘Let’s just see where we’re at.’”

SOUTH MEDFORD AT ROSEBURG: Defense was the highlight of South Medford’s night against Crater last week, allowing only one touchdown — after a special teams snafu put the Comets in prime position — and one field goal.

The Panthers allowed 213 total yards, spearheaded by the play of defensive lineman Charlie Campbell, linebackers Liam Stedman and Carson Joe and safety Kaleb Barney, who had an interception.

“I liked the emotion and the effort of our defense,” said South Medford head coach Bill Singler. “That was probably our best early season defensive play we’ve had in a long time, and that was really great to see.”

The Panthers (0-1) put an emphasis on tackling and fundamentals during the long offseason and it paid off against a potent Crater offense.

“I think the kids just took it to the field, which was great,” added Singler. “And we have some mentality over there this year that’s different than the last couple years. We have some kids up front that are bigger and stronger and kids at the linebacker corps that are making plays, and we haven’t seen that kind of effort and size in the last couple of years.”

What South Medford also hasn’t seen is Roseburg play a game this spring. The Indians had to cancel their expected season opener against Eagle Point last week due to COVID concerns, and return a junior- and sophomore-driven squad that could play any number of ways for fifth-year head coach Dave Heuberger.

“A lot of times your first opponent you don’t know much about them either so we’re kind of treating this like a first ballgame,” said Singler. “For all we know, they can come back and be old-style Thurman Bell and get back in the veer again. We just have to worry about ourselves and make our corrections and keep moving forward.”

Singler credits Crater for not making anything easy on his relatively inexperienced offense last week and hopes to see the Panthers a little more balanced at Finlay Field. Garrett Henderson led a ground attack that gained 129 yards — Henderson supplying 88 and the lone TD — but first-time starter Deacon Edgar managed to complete only 2 of 9 passes for 12 yards in a steady rain at Spiegelberg.

“We have to open up the playbook for him,” Singler said of the sophomore QB, “and he’s going to have to learn by the course of hard knocks because we can’t play inhibited.”

Look for Carson Cota, Brycen Guches and Colton Samis to also become more involved in the attack as the Panthers seek to establish their offensive identity moving forward.

MAZAMA AT EAGLE POINT: Eagle Point only had a few days to prepare for its season opener at Springfield but that didn’t matter as senior Lucas Meerten returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and hauled in a TD pass from sophomore QB Anthony Milian to highlight a 24-7 win at Springfield.

“We were just thrilled to have a game,” said EP head coach Erik Johnson. “Having that much time off from an actual football atmosphere, it was good to get a win, especially on the road.”

Isaiah Hill played a key role for the Eagles (1-0) with his 102 rushing yards, allowing Milian to settle in and pass for 72 yards while also running for another 29.

Reagan Scheffler also paved the way for a solid outing with 11 tackles and two forced fumbles for a defense that Johnson praised for its ability to fly around and make plays against the Millers.

That defense will be put to the test physically Friday against Mazama (1-0), which operates out of the veer and just keeps coming downhill at you with quarterback Tristan Lee and fullbacks Daniel Yancey and Zeke Heaton. The Vikings, who beat Henley 35-0 last week, also have a go-to target on the perimeter in Cole Brosterhous and inside in tight end Erik Hayden.

“Being sound is a perfect word for them,” said Johnson, who had high praise for longtime Mazama coach Vic Lease. “They are physical all around in all three phases. It will be a challenge.”

Have a story idea? Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

Crater’s Angel Perez wraps up South Medford running back Garrett Henderson during the second half of last Friday's 9-6 victory.{ }Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
A swarm of Crater defenders close in to deny South Medford running back Garrett Henderson during the second half Friday night.{ }Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune