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South shows rust in opener

McNary uses big plays, stout defense to deny Panthers

South Medford looked exactly like a team that hadn’t been able to practice much in the open air leading up to its season opener and McNary made the Panthers suffer the consequences in a 35-13 romp Friday in Keizer.

The host Celtics scored a 75-yard touchdown on a simple swing pass on their first play from scrimmage and otherwise controlled the clock as they methodically chipped away at the South Medford defense.

“You can use that as an element,” Singler said of the lack of contact while practicing mostly in a gymnasium in the preseason, “but we didn’t tackle well, we didn’t play run defense well and we didn’t run the ball on offense. If you can’t run the ball and you can’t stop the run, those two don’t bode well.”

Gunner Smedema got McNary on the board after the Celtics forced a Panthers punt on the opening series, taking a quick pass to the left, stiff-arming his initial defender and then racing through the defense for a 75-yard score.

“That set the tone,” said Singler. “Shoot, all of a sudden on the first play of the game they throw one out in the flanks and bad angles and bad tackles and whatever and they score. That’s not the way you want to start the season.”

South Medford countered with a nice offensive drive led by junior quarterback Deacon Edgar, but the Panthers bogged down in the red zone and turned the ball over on downs at the McNary 15-yard line.

The Celtics went up 14-0 on another connection between Smedema and Copeland, this time on a 13-yard pass where Smedema again fought off defenders to bull his way into the end zone.

Senior Brycen Guches returned the ensuing kickoff to the McNary 44 but Edgar’s long pass toward Colton Samis was intercepted by Smedema at the goal line.

Undaunted by the quick momentum change, South Medford junior linebacker Isaac Valdez gave his team a spark when he later stepped in front of a second-quarter pass by Copeland and returned the ball to the McNary 4.

Two plays later, Edgar found Samis all alone in the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown that trimmed the Panthers’ deficit to 14-7.

South Medford appeared to maybe be settling in at that point but Copeland’s passing and a balanced running attack allowed McNary to get into Panther territory in the waning seconds of the first half and score a key touchdown on a 24-yard pass from Tyler Copeland to Braiden Copeland with nine seconds left on the clock.

“We were hoping to get a little momentum,” said Singler, “but we let it get back away from us and they go on a 65-yard drive in the final three minutes to score. I thought that hurt us because we’d done well to get back into the game.”

McNary senior running back Dakota Dunagan tacked on a 9-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to give the Celtics a 28-7 lead, then added a 59-yard score early in the fourth quarter on a play where he was wrapped up but wasn’t ruled down. As the Panther defenders eased up on the play expecting a whistle, the McNary bench could be heard imploring Dunagan to run, who still had the ball in his hands and raced the final 50 yards of his score to near-empty turf.

“It was a fluke play but a sign of an inexperienced team, too, that doesn’t play to the whistle,” said Singler. “The down is determined by the whistle, not by what you think is going on. We have a lot of things to keep coaching them up on with a young, inexperienced team like we have. But one thing is sure, we’ve got to finish on both sides of the ball, and we didn’t do that very well tonight.”

The Panthers finally got back on the scoreboard midway through the fourth quarter on a 13-yard connection from Edgar to junior Josh Phillips but South was unable to get any closer.

“We have a lot of work to do, obviously,” said Singler. “It’s always good to get one game under your belt because now you can look at film constructively and kids can see it was well. We’ve just got to keep playing hard and keep coaching them up because it doesn’t get any easier.”

Unofficially, Edgar completed 14 of 28 passes for 133 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Andrew Walker pulled in four passes for 49 yards, while Samis had three for 30, Phillips had two for 21 and Ty Henry had two for 21.

South Medford’s ground game struggled to gain traction against the more veteran Celtics, with Guches running for 27 of the Panthers’ 41 yards and Carson Joe finishing with 15 yards.

Tyler Copeland completed 13 of 18 passes for 208 yards, with Smedema doing the bulk of the damage on four catches for 108 yards.

Dunagan led a ground attack that amassed 243 yards on 38 carries with 15 carries for 123 yards.

South Medford will square off against Bend at Spiegelberg Stadium next Friday, air quality permitting. The Lava Bears beat Grants Pass 27-7 in their home opener Friday.

MCNARY 35, SOUTH MEDFORD 13

South Medford0706—13

McNary71477—35

M — Smedema 75 pass from T. Copeland (Ready kick)

M — Smedema 13 pass from T. Copeland (Ready kick)

SM — Samis 4 pass from Edgar (Parker kick)

M — B. Copeland 24 pass from T. Copeland (Ready kick)

M — Dunagan 9 run (Ready kick)

M — Dunagan 59 run (Ready kick)

SM — Phillips 13 pass from Edgar (pass failed)

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

South Medford quarterback Deacon Edgar, seen here in a file photo, and the Panthers dropped their season opener to McNary on Friday night. (PHOTO BY: LARRY STAUTH JR)