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South Medford falls shy in upset bid at Sheldon

Winless Panthers post best effort in strong showing at Sheldon

After spotting Sheldon 20 points to start the game, South Medford buckled down and put a scare into the Irish deep into the final minutes in Friday’s Southwest Conference football opener for both teams in Eugene.

In what was certainly the Panthers’ strongest showing of the season, South Medford scored 23 straight points to shock Sheldon in the second quarter and went on to hold a three-point edge late in the third quarter before running out of steam.

After Deacon Edgar connected on an 11-yard touchdown score to Ty Henry with 3:06 to go in the third quarter to put South up 37-34, Sheldon answered with its own scoring drive to close out the frame and then held the Panthers scoreless over the final quarter to pull out a 54-37 victory.

“I thought this was our best game of the year in some ways,” said South Medford coach Bill Singler. “Obviously we gave up too many big plays on defense, we have to shore that up, but I thought the spirit was there and the will to win was there. It’s another good team though we were facing. We’ve had a real juggernaut schedule, but hopefully this will make us ready down the stretch.”

“A lot of guys left it all on the field tonight,” added the coach. “I thought our team kind of came of age tonight.”

Edgar was tremendous in guiding the Panthers (0-5) on the ground and through the air, getting big efforts from junior receiver Andrew Walker and senior Colton Samis to keep the chains moving.

Unofficially, Edgar rushed 12 times for 125 yards and completed 16 of 30 passes for 296 yards, while Walker had four catches for 146 yards and Samis pulled in five catches for 66 yards.

After Sheldon (4-1) got two touchdown passes from junior QB Brock Thomas and a 49-yard scamper by Grafton Robinson to build a 20-0 lead with two seconds to go in the first quarter, South Medford found itself in deep trouble.

Instead of giving in, however, the Panthers simply gave back to create some nervous moments for the home fans.

Edgar started the rally with a perfectly placed 82-yard scoring strike to Walker that was cradled in and put Walker off to the races for his second 80-plus TD of the season.

On the ensuing series, South Medford’s defense shined in driving Sheldon backwards and ultimately forcing a punt that never happened after the snap sailed over the head of Sam Poole and he could only kick the ball through the back of the end zone for a safety to make it 20-9.

After getting the ball back, Walker pulled in another 40-yard reception and the Panthers inched their way closer until Edgar could dance in from the 1-yard line with 7:39 to go in the second quarter.

Junior linebacker Isaack Valdez then came up with the defensive play of the game for South Medford after initially showing blitz before backing off and stepping in front of a Sheldon receiver for an interception. After being denied yards short of a touchdown in his first interception of the year against McNary, Valdez found clear sailing this time around for a 32-yard TD return.

When Samis darted in for a two-point conversion, suddenly it was 23-20 in South Medford’s favor.

As testament to the kind of gritty effort it was on both ends, the rest of the contest proved to be a back-and-forth affair until the Panthers finally succumbed in the fourth quarter.

Thomas gave Sheldon a 27-23 lead heading into the half with an 18-yard TD run, but Edgar did him one better coming out of the locker room with a 56-yard run to paydirt that pushed the Panthers back ahead 30-27.

Undaunted, Thomas found Luke Leighton wide open after a great play-fake pulled in the South Medford defense for a 63-yard score on third down to regain the edge for the Irish after it seemed the Panthers might get a stop when Hunter Hernandez-Cline sacked Thomas one play earlier.

The ebb and flow continued on the next series, built on a clutch third-down catch by Walker and big catches by senior Carson Joe and Samis. On third down at the 11, Edgar stood in under pressure and delivered a low pass that was hauled in by a diving Henry to make it 37-34 and regain the momentum for South Medford.

“It was good to see a lot of different kids step up and make plays,” said Singler. “That’s what we’ve been trying to preach. Guys are almost afraid to make plays and we saw different guys in the course of the game really step up. The interception by Isaack Valdez was big, and then of course Ty stepping up making a big play when we needed that. That’s what it’s going to take for us to get a victory.”

Sheldon would not be denied, however, as Zach McEwen scored his second TD of the game on a short Thomas pass in the final minute of the third quarter.

Desperate to make something happen on third-and-10, Edgar threw the first of two interceptions on a jump ball to Samis near midfield, and Sheldon used the short field to its advantage to go up 48-37 on a Leighton 21-yard TD reception.

“Early on he played really well, ran the ball and threw the ball well,” said Singler of his QB. “He had a couple bad decisions there in the second half but he just wants to win so bad and sometimes you just make some bad decisions when you don’t just throw out of bounds and live for the next one. I never fault his effort or his heart, though, he’s a warrior and he gives everything he has.”

Joe had the misfortune just before halftime in getting a big play down to the 2-yard line negated by a penalty, and had the same such luck on South Medford’s drive as his 44-yard TD run went for naught after the Panthers were flagged for a holding penalty. On the next play, Sheldon came up with a drive-ending interception.

Sheldon tacked on a final score in the final minutes of the fourth quarter to stretch its final advantage.

Thomas rushed 22 times for 144 yards and passed for another 237, with Leighton doing the bulk of the damage with four catches for 125 yards.

South Medford023140—37

Sheldon2071413—54

S — Z. McEwen 5 pass from Thomas (Poole kick)

S — Robinson 28 pass from Thomas (Poole kick)

S — Robinson 49 run from Thomas (kick failed)

SM — Walker 82 pass from Edgar (Parker kick)

SM — Safety, snap through end zone

SM — Edgar 1 run (Samis run)

S — Thomas 18 run (Poole kick)

SM — Edgar 56 run (Parker kick)

S — Leighton 63 pass from Thomas (Poole kick)

SM — Henry 11 pass from Edgar (Parker kick)

S — Z. McEwen 8 pass from Thomas (Poole kick)

S — Leighton 21 pass from Thomas (Poole kick)

S — Robinson 1 run (kick blocked)

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

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSouth Medford quarterback Deacon Edgar sneaks away for a first down during the 4th quarter Sept. 24 against Lakeridge.