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Interchangeable trio spurs South Medford offense

South Medford running backs, from left, Carson Joe, Garrett Henderson and Brycen Guches at practice Wednesday evening. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune

Bad things come in threes, that’s the mantra, right?

Depending on which sideline you stand on, South Medford’s trio of running backs either live up to that billing or are the exception to the rule.

Senior Garrett Henderson and juniors Carson Joe and Brycen Guches certainly have meant bad things to opposing defenses this spring, which, in turn, has been extremely positive for the Panthers.

“I think those kids have really been a cohesive force for us on offense,” said South Medford head coach Bill Singler. “This is the best running back depth we’ve had with all three kids being proficient, and all three really being pretty good at running the football, catching the football and blocking.”

The best part? None of them have an issue with whatever responsibility they have on a given play.

Even better? The results have proven each is equally capable of shouldering the load as the Panthers prepare for Friday’s 35th Black and Blue Bowl against North Medford at Spiegelberg Stadium. Kickoff is 7 p.m.

“I think a big part of it is I respect them and they respect me,” said Henderson. “We respect each other and know that each of us can do our thing.”

Henderson enjoyed a majority of carries early in the season, but Joe has come on strong as of late and Guches has always been there to provide a spark on any series.

“You’ve got Carson who can run over dudes, Brycen who can catch and make a guy miss anywhere on the field,” said Henderson of the trio, “and I feel like I fall in between the two of them.”

Entering Friday, Joe leads South Medford (3-1) with 368 yards and five touchdowns on 49 carries, while Henderson has turned 39 carries into 227 yards and four scores and Guches has toted 25 times for 150 yards and two TDs.

Each running back averages at least 6 yards per carry, and each is also a receiving threat out of the backfield. Guches has the most catches for South Medford with 10 for 55 yards, but Joe (six catches, 47 yards) and Henderson (six catches, 43 yards) aren’t far off that effort.

“I think collectively why they have had success and have helped our offense become more successful,” said Singler, “is that all these kids do all three dynamics of running back play very well and we kind of play off that.”

“It makes us to where you can’t really focus on one guy,” he added. “You have other guys in the backfield that can do what the other guy can do just as well.”

That spells trouble for opposing defenses and is quite a luxury to help keep them guessing.

“It doesn’t really matter who’s in the game, we don’t substitute kids for individual plays or whatever,” said Singler. “They just kind of substitute with (assistant coach Jason Bauer) on the sideline based on kind of how they’re doing, because they all three play defense, too.”

As has been the case for many years, you cannot discount the importance Bauer and his guidance and handling of the running backs has been this season.

“It’s a credit to coach Bauer,” said Singler of the unified production. “He’s been with us the whole journey (at South) and he does a great job with our running backs. He has a great temperament and the kids really respect him.”

Although he grew up with his South Medford peers, going to elementary school in the area and McLoughlin Middle School with them, Henderson began his high school career at North Medford as a freshman and shined as a reserve varsity running back the past two years.

The 5-foot-9, 185-pound standout transferred back into the South system toward the end of his junior year and has seamlessly fit in among the Panthers.

“Football-wise it’s been great,” said Henderson, lamenting only an academic year or so of virtual learning until this week. “All the guys welcomed me back without any hesitation. They all kind of missed me and I missed playing with them.”

It took little time for Henderson to make a positive impression on Singler, who obviously saw his on-field talents from previous film reviews of North Medford but learned more about his overall makeup this past offseason.

“I knew a little bit about Garrett coming over from North because he’s been in our youth programs,” said Singler, “but, shoot, he’s just been a no-nonsense kid who loves football and is just a team guy. He has fit in just terrific with our football team and the kids and coaches just respect the hell out of him.”

“He’s been a good counter-puncher with Carson Joe as far as an inside runner for us,” he added. “It just seems that Carson has gotten lately most of the carries, not by design, it’s just the way that it’s come out, but they both do a fantastic job when it’s their turn.”

Joe settled into more of a fullback role due to others ahead of him last year, but his lead blocking served notice that he could become a physical presence for the Panthers.

“When he lowers his pads he does bring a punch,” said Singler of the 5-10, 200-pounder. “He’s a good-sized kid and very strong. We’re just tickled to death for him because he has prepared himself for the moment.”

The most prominent of the trio last season was Guches, who had several big moments to average 7.6 yards and finish with 182 overall despite sustaining an injury that forced him to the sidelines.

A 5-7, 165-pound playmaker, Guches has been asked to fill various roles this year that have cut down on potential 100-yard games as Henderson and Joe have enjoyed.

“Brycen Guches has been kind of the under-the-radar back of all three of them,” noted Singler, “but last week he made the two biggest plays of the game for us, in my opinion.”

It was a key catch-and-run by Guches to sustain a drive in the second half that allowed South Medford to stay ahead of Grants Pass in what became a 56-56, three-overtime triumph, as well as a pivotal block on a TD run by Colton Samis in the second OT.

That game was as emblematic of any to the shared value in South Medford’s backfield, with Joe also posting a pair of TD runs and 114 yards while Henderson scored the game-tying TD in the third OT to set the stage for a big victory on Jude Pannell’s point-after kick.

“It was a little bit draining towards the end but it was nice to finally come out on top,” Henderson said of the marathon contest in GP. “When Jude made his kick, we all felt a huge relief and I think it brought the team even closer together after that point for this week.”

While the trio of running backs has enjoyed putting together highlight moments this spring, it doesn’t compare to the amount of appreciation each has for a senior-driven offensive line that makes it all possible. The Panthers average nearly 200 yards per game on the ground and 309 overall.

“We love knowing that our team relies on us,” said Henderson in speaking for the running back crew, “but a big portion of it is our guys up front. They carry the load as much as we do and they open up the holes for us to make something happen. We wouldn’t get anywhere without them working as hard as they do.”

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, facebook.com/krishenryMT or twitter.com/Kris_Henry