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6A WEEK 3: South vies to keep McNary in check

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North travels to West Salem in preseason SCFC title contenders clash

Each season, like most football programs, South Medford lays out a series of goals and gradually goes about trying to attach a checkmark to each.

A season-opening win at Beaverton provided an opportunity for two checkmarks for the first win as well as first road win.

Last week, the Panthers were able to put a check toward their first home victory with a 21-7 comeback effort against Del Norte — although it didn’t seem to satisfy the rest of the state as South dropped from No. 10 to outside the rankings this week.

On Friday, South Medford’s next looming checkmark comes in the form of potentially securing the team’s first conference triumph as McNary comes to Spiegelberg Stadium to kick off the debut season of the South/Central Football Conference.

“We definitely have motivation,” said Panthers head coach Bill Singler, who is in his 25th season. “We’ve certainly talked about the importance of winning your first league game and giving great effort and that kind of stuff. Now we’ve just got to go out and take care of business.”

In other SCFC openers involving local teams, North Medford (0-2) plays at West Salem (0-2) on Friday and Grants Pass (2-0) is at South Salem (2-0) on Saturday.

A year ago, before the 6A schools from Salem on south to Medford joined forces, McNary supplied South Medford with a rude awakening in the season opener for both teams in a runaway 35-13 triumph.

Many of those Celtics leaders have since graduated but first-year head coach Connor Astley boasts a capable cast of athletes who will be looking to put it all together after a pair of lopsided losses to No. 8 Lakeridge and No. 6 Tualatin.

“The thing you have to put into perspective is they’re coming off playing two really good top-10 teams in the state,” said Singler, wary of anyone potentially undervaluing the Celtics. “They’ve had two really tough ballgames and I’m sure they’re thinking that will help them against us. They saw us not play at our best last week, so I’m sure they have a different frame of mind playing us than they did going into playing Tualatin and Lakeridge.”

“I’m sure that they’re going to be chomping at the bit being 0-2,” he added. “I’m sure they see an opportunity against us, after having some success last year against us, with a team they can match up with a little better.”

Where South Medford (2-0) differs from a year ago has been on the defensive side of the ball, where the Panthers have allowed only one touchdown and 304.5 yards per game.

Against a senior-driven wing-T scheme from Del Norte last week, South was able to limit big plays and got standout efforts from linebackers Gio Livingston and Dylan Espinosa and a host of defensive linemen — led by Makani Manuwai, Logan Crocker, Li Moala and Remy Rodriguez — who stood up against constant pressure.

“That’s the best defensive effort we’ve had against a wing-T team since I’ve been at South,” said Singler. “We have not had a lot of success against that offense in the past so I was really proud of (defensive coordinator Chris Parnell) and the defense and how those guys competed.”

“The last two weeks they’ve played great,” he added, “and they’re going to need the same kind of effort this week.”

The Panthers should get a boost with the return of 6-foot-6 defensive end Gabe Staszak, who missed last week due to mild concussion symptoms, and the confidence formed by a group that took their lumps last year but is in no mood to repeat that experience.

Gage Smedema and Jake Allen possess playmaking ability for the McNary offense, while senior Hunter Ruberto anchors the defense at middle linebacker.

Offensively, the Panthers didn’t have much to go on when it came to Del Norte but were able to adjust the game plan on the fly behind the decision-making of senior quarterback Deacon Edgar and a big-play effort from senior Andrew Walker, whose touchdown run with three minutes to play proved to be the back-breaker for the Warriors.

Edgar has completed 22 of 29 passes for 342 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, while Walker has hauled in half of those completions for 208 yards.

Junior running back Ryder Scheid is averaging 6.4 yards per carry and put a stamp on last week’s win with his second TD of the fall, while senior Will Greenwood also put his versatility on display in the backfield.

The Panthers also got a boost from senior Ty Henry, who went 3-for-3 in extra-point kicks despite having never kicked in a game prior to last Friday. Henry was pressed into action due to an injury to sophomore kicker Landon DuFour.

NORTH MEDFORD AT WEST SALEM: North Medford and West Salem were tabbed as the preseason conference favorites behind Sheldon, which currently stands No. 1 in the 6A coaches’ poll, so a combined 0-4 record isn’t what anyone envisioned for their Week 3 matchup.

Falling behind early has been an Achilles’ heel for the Black Tornado that head coach Nathan Chin hopes can be rectified Friday in order to give his team a chance against a talented group of Titans, whose losses have come to No. 10 Sherwood (31-14) and No. 5 Lake Oswego (14-0).

“We have not been functioning very well offensively at this point and that has definitely been a challenge,” said Chin.

North Medford senior quarterback Caiden Lacey limped to the sidelines in the second quarter of last week’s 39-7 loss at Bend but fears of the worst were erased with his ability to practice a little this week.

Lacey has completed 13 of 24 passes for 172 yards with one TD and one interception, but a sprained knee could leave him out of action at least for Friday as he continues to regain complete mobility — which will be vital against West Salem’s blitz-heavy approach.

Senior JT Knobloch-Scott was forced into action with limited reps last week but still was able to respond, going 10-for-17 for 138 yards with two interceptions and a 65-yard TD to Connor Cesaro in the final minute to escape a shutout.

“He took a ton of reps this week and I think he’s getting a little bit more comfortable back there,” Chin said of Knobloch-Scott, who transferred from Cascade Christian after earning all-league honors as a kicker and punter. “This is a kid who is a good athlete but never has played quarterback and it’s just a different space that you have to function around. What you have to use in your mind changes in that sense.”

“He’s done a good job and I think the one main thing is he’s not afraid,” he added. “He jumps into it and there’s no reservations for him, and that’s probably one of the biggest things that is in his benefit is that he just jumps right in and goes after it. You don’t catch him overthinking or playing slower because of that, he’ll just go.”

Running back Ty Pugliano typically is the spark for his team’s attack but the standout senior has been bottled up thus far by talented defenses in West Linn and Bend, and game situations getting away from the Tornado. Pugliano has run 29 times for 93 yards and will look to stretch his legs a little more against the Titans.

North is averaging 213 yards of total offense against 361.5 yards allowed, but Chin believes those numbers will even out as the season wears on.

“One of the big pieces for us going into this week is just fixing the things from the last two weeks,” he said. “It’s small things, it’s execution and it’s effort and those types of things. We just had to do some small little changeups in practice and our kids have responded well to that.”

West Salem sophomore QB Kaden Martirano has completed 31 of 68 passes for 388 yards as he continues to settle into the position. The Titans have a host of tall receivers to rely upon, led by McNary transfer Braiden Copeland and Tommy Slack, and spark plugs on both sides of the ball in Roman Burrow and Jimmy Lathen.

GRANTS PASS AT SOUTH SALEM: Short of Sheldon, South Salem may have the most diverse and experienced set of playmakers in the SCFC and should be a considerable challenge for a Grants Pass defense that limited first-year Caldera to 11 yards of total offense last week.

Senior QB Daschel Smith is coming off a five-touchdown, 525-yard performance and has a wealth of options led by receivers Zach Wusstig, Tini Tinitali and Esteban Mendez. Saxons head coach Scott DuFault said prior to the season that he believed his receiving corps went seven-deep, and nothing so far has challenged that theory.

For Grants Pass, senior QB Jace Blanchard has found his comfort zone and passed for 404 yards and six TDs in two games, while running back Trevor Reeves continues to provide a nice complement with 215 yards on the ground.

The Cavemen are looking to open a season 3-0 for the first time since 2017, when they won their first four games before finishing 6-4.

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

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSouth Medford's Gio Livingston wraps up Del Norte's #42 for a loss during the 1st half at Spiegelberg Stadium in Medford Friday night.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneSouth Medford's Andrew Walker looks for extra yards on a pass during the 1st half at Spiegelberg Stadium in Medford Friday night.
Andy Atkinson/Mail Tribune. Caiden Lacey delivers a pass during a preseason North Medford football practice.
Ty Pugliano, North Medford football