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South Medford faces stiff challenge in Grants Pass

It’s been another step forward through three weeks of this spring season for South Medford, but that path gets a little more rocky as Week 4 approaches.

With a date at Grants Pass on Friday followed by an April 2 meeting with North Medford, Panthers head coach Bill Singler knows full well that his team’s greatest opposition is still to come.

And that’s why the growth shown in these past few weeks has been all that necessary for his team moving forward.

“I think we continue to evolve and we continue to improve, and that’s the main thing,” said Singler. “We just want to see our kids every week show improvement on the field at their position and I think we’ve seen that in different places, especially offensively where it takes time to come together and jell.”

In other large-school action Friday, North Medford faces Roseburg in its home opener at Spiegelberg Stadium, while Crater plays at Eagle Point. Both games will be senior night for the home teams.

Phoenix is set to play Thursday night at North Eugene in a late change to the Pirates’ schedule.

Friday at the 3A level, Cascade Christian is at South Umpqua and St. Mary’s will host Sutherlin at U.S. Cellular Community Park.

South Medford junior Carson Joe stepped to the forefront one week ago, churning out 174 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries to complement a running attack that has already been a foundation to the Panthers’ offense.

With senior Garrett Henderson slowed by an injury sustained a week prior against Roseburg, Joe showed good burst and steady power to drive the Panthers (2-1), while junior Brycen Guches had his own shining moments with a TD run and team-high five catches.

“That was just the way the cards unfolded,” said Singler. “Carson seemed to get the majority of the carries last week and took advantage of it. It’s nice to have all three of them really getting a lot of play. It sure helps take some of the pressure off our sophomore quarterback to where we don’t have to sit back and throw every down.”

Henderson is averaging 7.3 yards per carry and has 191 yards rushing and three TDs overall, while Joe has run for 267 yards and three scores and Guches is averaging 6.1 yards per carry while amassing 140 yards and two TDs.

Grants Pass (2-1), mind you, has its own prolific running attack in seniors Jayden Brown, Spencer Sloan and Jett Hood, who gets into the act from his receiver position. Brown has run for 293 yards and four scores, while Sloan used a big week against Roseburg to come in averaging 7.2 yards per carry and Hood has run for 125 yards and one TD.

“They’re very balanced with a really good running game and capable group of backs on their team as well,” said Singler of the Cavemen. “Their outside receiver corps is talented. We saw them in the passing league this summer and they just kind of overwhelmed us a little bit so we know we’re going up against a very talented group, we do every year against them. It’s no surprise. It’s a challenge and we look forward to it and we’ll see how it goes.”

Grants Pass quarterback Hunter Gonzales is completing 44% of his passes but has hit some big plays to receivers Devik Chiang (nine catches, 223 yards, two TDs), Dante Haven (nine catches, 100 yards) and Noah Martinez (24.7 yards per catch, two TDs).

“That concerns you because they do have the big-play capability,” said Singler. “You certainly want to make an offense drive the field. You don’t want to see a one or two play drive end up with a 60- or 70-yard bomb. That can be a little disheartening.”

“They’re a tough outfit to defend,” he added. “Our defense will have a huge challenge, but those guys hopefully we’ll be up to that and hopefully we can give Grants Pass a good game.”

South Medford’s defense has yet to face a complete offense like the Cavemen, with rain helping diminish Crater’s typical attack in Week 1, but the Panthers have definitely been up to the task no matter what the circumstance is thus far.

South Medford is allowing only 171 yards and 10 points per game through three weeks, and has gotten a steady push from defensive tackle Charlie Campbell and got a nice effort last week from Brody Lewis, who joined the team from Etna, California, a few weeks before the season opener.

The Panthers’ passing game also took a big step last week, highlighted by a 58-yard TD pass from Deacon Edgar to senior Garrett Smith. Edgar completed 15 of 21 passes for 167 yards, but it was the downfield strike that proved to be a big breakthrough and one South hopes to take advantage of moving forward.

“We’ve been working on that and we’ve had our opportunities in early ballgames to complete a few and just haven’t been able to do so,” said Singler. “We finally had really good protection, a nice throw and catch and ended up with a nice touchdown.”

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

South Medford junior Carson Joe attempts to run the ball past Eagle Point defender Lucas Meerten (front) and Isaiah Hill, as teammates Gio Rios (center) and Jalen Steadmon (back, left) look on at Spiegelberg Stadium on Friday. Photo by Larry Stauth Jr.