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WEEK 2 PREVIEW: South moves game to Bend

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Air quality issues create change for Saturday tilt; North opens Friday against West Linn

South Medford football coach Bill Singler saw his team’s home opener moved for a second time in as many days Wednesday and, to be honest, his thoughts were never really on where the Panthers would play Bend in Week 2.

Twenty-four years at the helm, dealing with all types of distractions and challenges along the way, will give you a different perspective on such matters.

“I don’t really care where we play, I just want the kids to get an opportunity to play,” said Singler.

Due to continued concerns over the poor air quality here in the Rogue Valley brought on by wildfire smoke that has yet to dissipate, South Medford’s second game of the season will now be played at 4 p.m. Saturday at Bend High.

The game was originally scheduled to be played Friday at Spiegelberg Stadium before being moved Tuesday to a road tilt that switched from Friday to Saturday in less than a 24-hour span by Medford School District administrators.

“The thing that’s hard when you’re traveling so far away is that you have to make a decision,” said Singler of the move. “You can’t just wake up Friday morning and say, ‘We’re going to Bend.’ We can’t wait until the 11th hour because you have to make transportation calls and get that sewed up and plan for food and where you’re going to eat in Bend.”

While Medford had a slightly better AQI Wednesday afternoon than Bend, the prevailing belief is that the air will be healthier this weekend in Bend than here locally. Oregon School Activities Association mandates for air quality state that games cannot be played with an AQI above 100.

All this, mind you, on top of COVID concerns that infiltrate most scheduling decisions these days.

“It’s very challenging and the unpredictability of everything makes it a lot tougher, especially on the administrators,” said Singler. “I really do feel for them because it’s a day-by-day proposition and trying to plan ahead is just so hard to do. It’s like a teacher, you’ve got to have your regular lesson plan, your rainy day lesson plan and then you have to have a smoke lesson plan.”

And for coaches and players, you need a flexible and positive outlook about it all.

“It’s up to us as coaches to keep things on an even keel and keep kids upbeat,” said Singler. “I’m just happy the kids are practicing and the kids are out doing things they love to do. I’m hoping that we can continue to play games for as long as we can and keep going. It is a challenge, you’ve seen teams across the state have to give up games already.”

In other schedule changes this week, Eagle Point will host a rare Thursday game against Springfield at Eagle Stadium. Kickoff is 7 p.m., air quality permitting.

Friday’s 6A action also features North Medford playing its first game of the season against West Linn at Wilsonville High, while Grants Pass is host to West Salem.

In 5A games Friday, Crater will host Mazama at Dutch Meyer Field in a replacement game following a COVID issue in the Cascade Christian High program, and Ashland plays its home opener against North Bend.

Class 4A Phoenix plays at 3 p.m. Saturday against Stayton, while 3A St. Mary’s plays at Illinois Valley on Friday.

In the Bend Lava Bears (1-0), South Medford faces another stiff obstacle Saturday after suffering a season-opening 35-13 loss at McNary last week.

Bend overpowered Grants Pass for a 27-7 victory in its opener, with 5-foot-8, 190-pound junior Malakai Nutter running for 193 of his team’s 289 yards to go with two touchdowns.

“They’re a very well-coached team; Matt Craven has done a great job over there,” said Singler. “Bend has a lot of football history and they’re going to give us fits, there’s no question about that.”

The Lava Bears have shifted offensive philosophies over the years, but have settled into a double-wing attack that is tough to defend due to its unconventional nature in this age of spread offenses.

“They’re a good running football team,” said Singler. “It’s a very physical offense. You don’t have to be big, you just have to be fast and tough, and they seem to have those types of kids.”

Running back Jack Sorenson (5-11, 160) added 67 yards and one TD on eight carries last week, with senior quarterback Seve Castillo doing more damage with his legs (five carries, 12 yards, one TD) than his arm (4-for-9 passing, 5 yards, one interception) but always capable of catching a team leaning with play-action efforts.

All provide a daunting task for a Panthers team that struggled to stop the run against McNary and showed tremendous rust with their tackling after having 13 of their 20 practices to date indoors.

“We’re doing the best we can under the circumstances,” said Singler, “but the tackling issue is really hard on us because you have to practice tackling, you can’t just do form tackling. At some point you have to go execute live, open-field tackles and we can’t take kids down in the gym. That’s not a prudent or safe thing to do.”

Singler said he was pleased with how his young Panther linemen on both sides of the ball “hung in there and kept playing” against the more veteran Celtics last week and hoped it would provide valuable experience moving forward.

South Medford quarterback Deacon Edgar completed 14 of 28 passes for 136 yards, with two TDs and one interception. Edgar spread the ball around, with five players hauling in at least two passes, but the Panthers also left a few big-play opportunities on the field against McNary that they’ll look to shore up Saturday.

Junior receiver Andrew Walker led his team with four catches for 50 yards, while Josh Phillips added three catches for 44 yards and one TD.

South Medford will look to make strides in a running game that was stagnant against McNary, with senior Carson Joe netting only 22 yards on nine carries after the Panthers were held to 39 yards overall on the ground.

“We’ve just got to keep the faith and keep plugging along and worry about ourselves and don’t worry about our opponents,” said Singler. “We’ve just got to fix what we do.”

“We kind of looked at that first game as our jamboree in a lot of respects because that’s what it was: It was our first time to line up live,” he added. “We expect them to have improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, so hopefully these kids will take the experience they had from McNary and use that to be better.”

NORTH MEDFORD AT WEST LINN: While everyone else was getting a taste of their first action on the gridiron, North Medford had to sit and bide its time following a COVID situation in the Del Norte football program that necessitated the cancellation of their contest.

The Black Tornado expects to be a full go this Friday when it travels to play West Linn at Wilsonville High, but that won’t make matters any easier.

West Linn (1-0) is coming off a strong 17-3 win over Jesuit in a top-5 battle that saw junior receiver and linebacker Mark Hamper play a pivotal role for Lions head coach Chris Miller. Hamper caught nine passes for 143 yards and one touchdown and added a key interception.

Senior quarterback Chase Harmon, making his first start, completed 18 of 23 passes for 234 yards and two TDs, although he was sacked six times.

West Linn’s defense held Jesuit with a touchdown for the first time since 2009 against Skyline (Wash.) and the first time for an Oregon team since Lake Oswego in 2007.

North Medford expects to counter with a deep and experienced group of linemen blocking for first-year starting quarterback Mason Warren.

The Black Tornado features a pair of playmaking receivers in senior Bryce Dyer and sophomore AJ Pugliano, whose junior brother Ty Pugliano expects to pace the ground attack.

SPRINGFIELD AT EAGLE POINT: Eagle Point waged a furious comeback that fell just short last week in a 35-28 loss at Churchill, but that experience should bode well for an Eagles team that will try to get off to a faster start when it plays host to Springfield Thursday night.

Eagle Point fell behind 21-0 last week but quickly dialed up its play to pull even by halftime. Critical to the Eagles coming up short were five turnovers that halted drives.

Junior quarterback Caiden Lacey completed 27 of 40 passes for 322 yards and two TDs but had four interceptions. Wyatt Graves (nine catches, 103 yards) and Jimmie Copeland (three catches, 80 yards) hauled in TD passes.

Look for EP to try and establish its ground game more behind the play of David Brown, one of the area’s leading rushers this past spring, and Isaiah Hill against a Millers team coming off a 39-7 loss to South Umpqua.

MAZAMA AT CRATER: Senior Caden Lasater put forth a monstrous effort in last week’s 31-0 season-opening win over North Bend. Lasater had two interceptions, including a 90-yard return for the Comets’ first TD of the season, and hauled in a 16-yard TD pass to go with his work in the backfield at running back.

Overall, Lasater ran for 93 yards on 15 carries and caught three passes for 38 yards.

Sophomore quarterback Shane Wood will also look to build off a solid opener after he passed for three scores — two to tight end Kayden Gardner — and did well to handle the pressure in his first varsity action.

Wood completed 10 of 19 passes for 113 yards with one interception, while Gardner had four catches for 61 yards to go with six unassisted tackles on defense.

Defensive end Jimmy Jordahl, who had two sacks against North Bend, will be instrumental again on defense as Mazama (0-1) brings a potent ground attack to Dutch Meyer Field under head coach Vic Lease.

The Vikings were originally scheduled to face Cascade Christian this week, but a COVID issue within the Challengers program forced a cancellation of that game. Crater, which had a Week 2 void in its schedule, quickly moved to bring Mazama to town.

NORTH BEND AT ASHLAND: Ashland struggled in its return to varsity play, but expect the Grizzlies to be more settled at home in Week 2 against North Bend. The Grizzlies feature only a handful of seniors on their roster and most players were making their varsity debuts last week in a 35-14 loss to Henley that saw the Hornets build a 20-0 lead in less than a quarter.

Ashland utilized three quarterbacks last week to find a spark in seniors Ronin Kimbrough and Jackson Kemper and freshman Jojo Harrower, but got its first score of the season off a pass from receiver Attikus Hayes to Noah Shrader.

Harrower later tossed a 15-yard TD pass to sophomore running back Gavin White in the fourth quarter and finished 9-of-15 passing for 107 yards. Caden Negra had five catches for 65 yards.

North Bend (0-1) struggled to gain traction against Crater’s defense last week but showed flashes of promise under athletic sophomore QB Cole Hansen.

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

South Medford senior Carson Joe, shown in action this past spring, will look to get the Panthers’ running game going Saturday against Bend. PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR.
South Medford junior Andrew Walker, shown in action this past spring, paced his team in receiving last week against McNary with 50 yards on four catches. PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR.
Mason Warren, North Medford
Caiden Lacey, Eagle Point
Caden Lasater, Crater
Attikus Hayes, Ashland