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South braces for another test

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Panthers welcome No. 5 Lakeridge to town Friday; North travels to Liberty

For a young South Medford football team, so far it’s been a season that can only be described as out of the frying pan and into the fire.

“No rest for the weary, that’s for sure,” Panthers head coach Bill Singler said with a slight chuckle of his team’s challenging schedule.

From three straight road games to open the season at McNary, Bend and No. 4 Lake Oswego — all with a combined 8-1 record — what’s South Medford’s reward for finally getting to play at home? Fifth-ranked and unbeaten Lakeridge.

Kickoff for the game at Spiegelberg Stadium is 7 p.m. Friday.

In other 6A action Friday, North Medford is at Liberty and Grants Pass plays host to Shasta High of California.

In 5A games, Ashland is the lone home team and will take on Churchill, while Crater is at Springfield and Eagle Point is at Mazama.

“Lakeridge really is a good-looking team and every bit as talented as Lake Oswego, in my opinion, just looking at them athletically on tape,” said Singler. “They’ve got a lot of athletes and kids that can make plays.

“They’re going to present a huge challenge to us, no question about that, but we’ve just got to take it one game at a time. Hopefully as we continue plugging along here we’ll start to see some dividends pay off with the work we’re putting in and the caliber of opponent we’re playing.”

It’s the second year of a two-year schedule that was supposed to be played in the fall of 2020, when South Medford had 23 seniors and a stout group of linemen, but due to COVID had to be put off to this fall.

For 2021, the Panthers (0-3) are down to 11 seniors, and only Carson Joe, Brycen Guches and Colton Samis were regular varsity players this past spring in a revamped campaign that included only regional play.

“We’re just a football team that is not as strong and not as experienced as you need to be to play these top-rated teams, and it shows,” said Singler. “You can’t hide against these guys.”

“We’re just not there yet, but we are certainly working at it,” he added. “I think we have some elements that can happen for us, but we’re going to have to get a little bit more effort and a little bit more physicality from our team on both sides of the ball.”

Despite losing 41-14 at Lake Oswego one week ago, Singler said he does believe his team is getting close to becoming more successful on offense and defense. In terms of special teams play, the Panthers have been solid thus far in kickoff return, thanks especially to efforts by Guches, as well as overall coverage.

“I was happy with the way we competed at LO,” said the 24th-year coach, “we just gave up too many big plays on defense, and then we didn’t make the big plays on offense when we had the opportunity.”

Junior standouts Deacon Edgar and Andrew Walker combined for one of those big plays on an 81-yard catch and run for a score against the Lakers. Edgar appeared destined to be sacked when he somehow delivered a pass to Walker on his way to the ground, and the speedy receiver did the rest as he put Lake Oswego’s defenders — most assuming a sack was imminent — in his rear view.

Walker has been productive in turning 11 catches into 229 yards receiving to lead the Panthers, while a typically under duress Edgar has completed 37 of 80 passes for 578 yards with five touchdowns and four interceptions.

Samis has seven catches for 102 yards and two scores, and the Panthers hope to get back junior receiver Josh Phillips (four catches, 73 yards) for Friday’s game after sitting out last week.

South Medford showed some signs of life in the running game for the first time against LO, with four players netting at least 32 yards while the linemen waged a tough battle against the senior-led Lakers.

Sophomore Ryder Scheid gave the team a lift after coming in for Guches, who exited in the first quarter after aggravating a preexisting injury. Scheid finished with 36 yards on 11 carries and registered his first varsity touchdown to complement Edgar and Joe, who are the Panthers’ leading rushers despite only being in the mid-60s each in terms of yardage through three weeks.

Defensively, the Panthers have enjoyed steady efforts from junior linebacker Dylan Espinosa and sophomore lineman Gabe Staszak, but have been hindered by allowing big plays to their opponents. South is allowing an atypical 429 yards and 39 points per game.

“There’s no question (big plays allowed on defense) have hurt us,“ said Singler.

That doesn’t bode well facing a Lakeridge team built on big-play capability.

The Pacers throttled Liberty 42-13 last week as Jake Reichle rushed for 131 yards and two TDs on seven carries, and also scored on a pass reception and interception return. Reichle, who has yet to be held under 100 yards rushing, also ran for 210 yards and four TDs against Sherwood.

Dallas Kuenzi picked off a pair of first-half passes last week for the Pacers, who are also led defensively by seniors Zac Waible, Jonathan Curry and Jack King.

Junior quarterback Ryan Oliver passed for 212 yards in an opening-week 42-21 win over Sherwood, with 6-foot-5 sophomore Joey Olsen catching six passes for 100 yards.

NORTH MEDFORD AT LIBERTY: North Medford got exactly what the doctor ordered last week with its first full week of practice outside a gym and a balanced attack that allowed the Black Tornado to build a 28-7 lead on visiting Sherwood.

Entering Week 4, now the goal is to take the positives and negatives from an eventual 28-21 win over the Bowmen and build on that for a key clash in Hillsboro against Liberty (2-1).

North Medford sophomore defensive lineman Terrell Kim had a key jarring hit on a final stand to deny Sherwood’s comeback bid, and the Black Tornado’s deep defensive line will be tasked with putting pressure on a Liberty attack that has averaged 40 points per game.

After shutting out their first two opponents in Aloha and Lincoln, however, the Falcons were overwhelmed last week by Lakeridge in a 42-13 setback. Senior quarterback Hiro Diamond has led the charge thus far for Liberty, throwing for four TDs and running for two more against Aloha, but is coming off a game where he was tagged with three costly interceptions.

After not being able to accomplish much against West Linn, North Medford’s offense was firing on all cylinders against Sherwood in its home opener.

Junior running back Ty Pugliano carried 13 times for 140 yards, including a 71-yard scoring romp, while senior quarterback Mason Warren found welcome targets in senior Bryce Dyer (four catches, 53 yards, two TDs) and sophomore AJ Pugliano (four catches, 111 yards, one TD).

CRATER AT SPRINGFIELD: Crater (2-1) shook things up by inserting Javon Smith at the quarterback position last week, but it was really the sheer determination spearheaded by senior Caden Lasater that helped the Comets bounce back with a nail-biting 15-13 win over Churchill.

Lasater ran 17 times for 102 yards and one touchdown and helped anchor a defense that bent but never broke against the Lancers. The Comets forced five turnovers to ultimately slow a Churchill offense that totaled 325 yards.

Smith’s numbers weren’t eye-popping, he completed 7 of 15 passes for 62 yards and ran for another 21 yards and one TD, but his overall athleticism allowed Crater to put the defense on its heels, unsure of exactly how the Comets would attack on each play.

Luke Higginson supplied four catches for 34 yards to give the passing game a boost, and Crater will look to build on that against a Springfield defense that has allowed around 40 points per game. The Millers have scored only two TDs in three games thus far.

Crater is averaging only 210 yards of offense thus far, with two-thirds coming from its run game.

EAGLE POINT AT MAZAMA: Eagle Point’s defensive effort has been instrumental in a 2-1 start for the Eagles, with linebacker Isaiah Hill compiling 14 total tackles in last week’s 13-6 win over Willamette.

Jimmie Copeland, Wyatt Graves and Juan Ruiz have also come up big for the Eagles, who are allowing 16 points and around 200 yards per game.

Hill also is coming off a big game on the offensive side after rushing for 104 yards and one TD on 12 carries, and it’s EP’s ability to go to Hill or David Brown (43 carries, 228 yards, two TDs) that could come in handy in keeping the ball out of Mazama’s hands.

Junior quarterback Caiden Lacey has completed 50 of 83 passes for 563 yards with five TDs against five interceptions, with Copeland leading the team with 13 catches for 232 yards.

As one of the top Class 4A programs, Mazama boasts a punishing running game that features senior Zeke Heaton, who leads the 4A with 584 rushing yards.

Mazama (1-2) is coming off a tough 31-28 loss to Cascade in a top-5 showdown.

CHURCHILL AT ASHLAND: A week off isn’t typically what a football team wants unless riddled with injuries, but it may have been a good thing for Ashland to have a bye in Week 3.

With an already young cast, many making their varsity debuts this fall, the Grizzlies (0-2) were able to use this past week to fine-tune some areas where they may be falling short.

Freshman Jojo Harrower has shown positive signs of growth at the quarterback position, completing 40 of 75 passes for 439 yards with two TDs and two interceptions.

Senior Attikus Hayes and sophomores Caden Negra and Noah Shrader have provided solid targets for Harrower, with Negra hauling in 13 passes for 158 yards to lead the group. Hayes has eight catches for 146 yards and Shrader is at six catches for 86 yards.

Run defense has not been a strength thus far for Ashland and that will be tested again by a Churchill attack led by senior running back Austin Mills. The Lancers (1-2) also have big-play capability between quarterback Chace Pence and receiver Riley Van Camp.

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

Andrew Walker, South Medford
Deacon Edgar, South MedfordAndy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
North Medford's Hudson Greisen and the Tornado defense stop Sherwood's Nolan Scott for a loss last Friday. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
Javon Smith, CraterAndy Atkinson / Mail Tribune
Isaiah Hill, Eagle PointPhoto by Denise Baratta
Caden Negra, AshlandPhoto by Denise Baratta