South Medford, EP strive to build momentum Friday
With limited varsity football experience for South Medford or Eagle Point entering this spring, the early going has involved setting a foundation and building toward something greater.
The Panthers took a big step toward that last Friday, and the Eagles will be looking for something similar when the two teams meet at 7 p.m. Friday in Spiegelberg Stadium.
“I’m sure they’re doing the same thing we are, they’re trying to find themselves,” said South Medford coach Bill Singler of the Class 5A Eagles. “We’ve just got to go in there with the idea of worrying about ourselves and trying to get better in all phases. I know Eagle Point is probably thinking the same thing, they’re just trying to take it one week at a time like we are and just get better.”
For South Medford (1-1), last week provided an opportunity to prove its resilience, trailing 14-8 in the fourth quarter at Roseburg. The Panthers responded in fine fashion, scoring the final 20 points of the game behind a balanced running game and yet another strong defensive effort.
“That’s one thing about our program, we feel like as long as we can stay competitive maybe good things will happen,” said Singler. “It didn’t happen for us the first week (in a 9-6 loss to Crater) but we hung in there last week against Roseburg and started to make things happen, in the fourth quarter especially. It was nice to win one on the road.”
For Eagle Point (1-1), last week’s lesson in a 63-0 loss to Mazama was more about learning how to take a punch to the chin and keep driving forward.
“There’s a lot of teaching moments and that’s one of many,” said Eagles coach Erik Johnson. “Having a lot of non-varsity experience on the team, hopefully they’re learning from that and we’ll find out more Friday.”
“Looking at two weeks now, there has been improvement,” he added. “We’ve had to make some changes and some subs to find out who wants to be out there and who wants to compete but there was progress. A lot of the mistakes were just one person or two here and there and just little things that are fixable. But you play a team of Mazama’s caliber, they’re going to expose that so that’s a thing we need to see and learn from that.”
The runaway result for Class 4A Mazama last week, however, is not one that creates extra optimism in the South Medford camp.
“I know they had a rough go of it last week,” said Singler, “but Mazama can do that to anybody, I don’t care what level you are, when you run the football the way they do.”
“We can’t overlook anybody,” he added. “We’re not where we need to be anywhere yet, so we expect a tough ballgame. Eagle Point always has a tough mentality.”
Beyond a defense that is allowing only 161 yards and 12 points per game, South Medford has leaned on its running game to help set the tone thus far. Senior Garrett Henderson and juniors Brycen Guches and Carson Joe each ran for at least 78 yards and a touchdown last week.
“We started to wear them down running the football,” Singler said of the X-factors against Roseburg, “and I think defensively we were a little more physical with them up front, which hurt them throwing and running. I thought our physicality really made a difference.”
South Medford’s trio of running backs have shined in their ability to work together, especially last week.
“Sometimes you get locked in maybe on the tailbacks or the fullback but we just kind of call them backs,” said Singler. “They all kind of interchange and rotate. One of them might be blocking one time and carrying the ball the next time, we kind of leave it up to them. We don’t have a designated ball carrier or designated blocker and it’s great to see those kids kind of take the leadership role amongst themselves about, ‘Hey, it’s your turn to carry it, I’ll go block,’ or vice versa. That keeps them fairly fresh, which is good.”
The ability to run the ball has become especially vital as the Panthers break in a sophomore quarterback in his first varsity stint in Deacon Edgar, who passed for 71 yards last week and ran for a TD but also was intercepted three times.
Of considerable concern is South’s inability to connect with its wideouts on a consistent basis, with only junior Colton Samis able to complement senior tight end Carson Cota as a threat beyond those coming out of the backfield.
“With a young kid, especially, a lot of times they’re used to waiting for receivers to come open before they throw it, rather than anticipating and throwing it and letting them run under it,” said Singler. “(Edgar) has to see that on film, he has to feel that and we’ve got to create that in practice for him because we’re leaving some throws out there that we normally have completed. But there also hasn’t been too many sophomores doing this like he is.”
Eagle Point knows all too well about young players in prime roles, and Johnson is embracing the competition for playing time.
“We’re just trying to find those guys who want to come in and compete,” said the second-year coach. “We don’t have a lot of varsity experience and some of these younger guys are pretty hungry to come in and they’re showing some fight so we’ll give them that opportunity.”
Sophomore QB Anthony Milian took all the snaps in Week 1 but gave way to freshman Bryton Livingston in the second half last week following a pair of interceptions. Livingston completed 6 of 8 passes for 28 yards after Milian was 4-for-7 passing for 14 yards.
“Bryton did a great job coming in being down by that much in the second half and not showing any issues,” said Johnson, whose team trailed 49-0 at halftime. “He was as comfortable and confident as anybody. A senior coming in is one thing but when you’re getting beat like that as a freshman, that says a lot about who he is and our expectations and hopes for him in the future.”
Johnson said he wouldn’t rule out playing both quarterbacks to try and take advantage of the hot hand moving forward, and that also held true with sophomore David Brown getting the lion’s share of carries against Mazama after junior Isaiah Hill ran for more than 100 yards in Week 1. Brown finished with 60 yards on 14 carries last week to garner increased activity.
Lucas Meerten has been a chief playmaker for the Eagles, averaging about 10 yards per catch to go with a Week 1 kickoff return for a score.
Facing a senior-loaded team and one as well-established and well-coached as South Medford will be daunting, according to Johnson, but he expects his team to be more ready to compete in Week 3.
“They’re big in the box on both sides and their skill players are fast so we’ll have our hands full again,” said the coach of facing the Panthers, “but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”