Battle of the Souths stirs up Week 4
Only one local matchup in Week 4 pits undefeated Class 6A or 5A teams against one another, and fireworks are certainly expected when South Medford travels to play at 10th-ranked South Salem on Friday night.
The Saxons boast one of the state’s most prolific 6A offensive attacks behind senior quarterback Daschel Smith at just over 41 points per game, while the Panthers have proven not too shabby in their own right by outscoring their opponents on average 39-9 thus far.
In the battle for South/Central Football Conference playoff positioning, whichever team comes out on top in Salem will get a definite leg up on the others. Both teams enter 3-0 overall and 1-0 in the SCFC, with the Panthers not far off that No. 10 spot in the 6A coaches’ poll.
“We have our hands full and we know that,” said South Medford head coach Bill Singler. “Hopefully we’ll go up and play well. Both teams are 3-0 and both teams have some state-caliber talent. It will be one of the big games of the week.”
In Friday’s other SCFC games involving local teams, North Medford will play host to North Salem and Grants Pass is host to West Salem.
In 5A action, Crater plays at Thurston and Eagle Point is at North Eugene, while 4A Ashland will host Hidden Valley and the 3A ranks sees top-ranked Cascade Christian hosting Coquille in a battle of unbeatens, St. Mary’s is at Lakeview and Phoenix will host Douglas.
South Medford is coming off a stellar showing from senior quarterback Deacon Edgar, who passed for five touchdowns and ran for another in last week’s 55-21 rout of McNary. Edgar wound up completing 18 of 24 passes for 267 yards and ran for another 68 yards.
So far this season, Edgar has completed 42 of 55 passes for 627 yards with seven TDs and two interceptions.
The Panthers also enjoyed a breakout performance from senior tight end Ty Henry against the Celtics. Henry caught a pair of touchdown passes and finished with a team-high 83 yards on four catches to serve as a nice complement to all-state standout Andrew Walker.
On the season, Henry has caught seven passes for 125 yards and two TDs, while Walker leads the way with 17 catches for 278 yards and three TDs.
Fellow senior Josh Phillips has also supplied key efforts and takes six catches for 121 yards and two scores into a showdown Friday that expects to see plenty of aerial antics.
“We have a pretty fair group of receivers ourselves and so do they,” said Singler. “I don’t know if it’s going to turn into a 7-on-7 game — because I don’t know if we want to get into that kind of shootout with them — but it has the potential to be that.”
Junior running back Ryder Scheid also appeared to get back on track last week and leads South Medford with 202 yards rushing with two TDs on 37 carries.
It will be an all-hands-on-deck situation, though, if the Panthers are to slow a Saxons squad that head coach Scott DuFault considers one of his best in 22 years at the helm.
It all starts with Smith at QB, who passed for about 2,500 yards and 18 TDs last season and is already well ahead of that pace thus far. The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder needed only one half of play to complete 21 of 24 passes for 281 yards and five TDs of his own last week against GP, and also ran for a touchdown for good measure.
Smith has passed for 1,188 yards and 12 TDs thus far — playing into the fourth quarter in only one game.
“He does a real good job stepping up in the pocket and extending plays,” said Singler, “and he keeps his vision down the field and he’ll let it go.
“They’re wide open and they attack you down the field — he might throw it a minimum of 40 times — and do a lot of no-huddle and things like that. We’ll get a test in the secondary, there’s no question about that.”
South Salem’s Air Raid offense also benefits from a host of premier targets, where DuFault said his team can go seven-deep and not bat an eye.
Senior Tini Tinitali III (6-0, 195) led the 6A level with 78 catches for just over 1,000 yards last year and second-leading receiver Esteban Mendez (5-6, 160) has also returned in prime form. The Saxons also got a boost in the offseason with the addition of speedy transfer Zach Wusstig from Jefferson, who is considered the fastest player on the team.
South Salem often goes five-wide with Braedy Vogt, Jaxon Watson, Parker Williams and Eli Johnson all in the mix. Vogt can also shift into the backfield for draw plays or screen passes, while Noah Scharer showed a nice burst from the backfield against the Cavemen for a Saxons team that does not run the ball a lot.
“It’s hard to simulate,” Singler said of South Salem’s attack, “but one thing you’ve got to do is just keep playing football. Sometimes you’ll get lulled into thinking ‘I’ve done my job’ and then all of a sudden the ball is over your head.”
Defensively, the Saxons have proven to be pretty stout and turn over most of those same skill players to limit teams to 14 points per game.
“They give you fits and are a big-time challenge all over the field,” said Singler.
Still, the Panthers coach is excited about his team’s prospects Friday and beyond.
“I’m proud of them that they’ve gotten off to a good start,” he said. “Anytime you win a ballgame in football is a good thing, and we didn’t even win three games last year, so it’s nice to see that. But our schedule is in front of us, there’s no question about that, and this will be a definite huge challenge.”
WEST SALEM AT GRANTS PASS: South Salem took Grants Pass out of anything it wanted to generate last Saturday, holding the Cavemen (2-1, 0-1 SCFC) to 161 yards of total offense behind four interceptions of QB Jace Blanchard and lockdown effort in the running game.
West Salem (0-3, 0-1) didn’t fare much better against North Medford last week, so the matchup couldn’t be better for teams that are searching for their first conference wins.
EAGLE POINT AT NORTH EUGENE: Eagle Point senior running back David Brown has shouldered a heavy load without breaking stride thus far, running for 300 yards in the season opener and then 240 yards and three scores on 31 carries last week.
One of those touchdowns proved to be the game-winner after a 69-yard jaunt in the fourth quarter against Churchill, and the Eagles (2-1, 1-0 MWL) will look to build on that against a Highlanders defense that has allowed 34 points per game.
CRATER AT THURSTON: No matchup in the Midwestern League has been as pivotal as this one over the last few years, but this year’s contest comes with two teams struggling to find themselves a little.
Thurston and Crater each are 1-2 overall, but the Colts have the only MWL win between them after five turnovers doomed the Comets in Springfield a week ago.
Crater has enjoyed success in the running game with senior Andrew Kelly, but consistency and overall balance will need to be the mainstay to fend off a Thurston charge led by senior running back/linebacker Vaun Halstead.
Thurston held North Eugene to 14 total yards last week, with QB Noah Blair completing 7 of 8 passes for 193 yards and two TDs.
HIDDEN VALLEY AT ASHLAND: Ashland sophomore QB Jojo Harrower passed for 289 yards and three touchdowns — two to senior running back Gavin White — against Henley last week but the Grizzlies, much like Crater a week before, simply could not match up with the Hornets’ experience and firepower.
Ashland (1-2, 0-1 Big Sky) boasts a host of receivers who should make things difficult for Hidden Valley (1-2, 0-1) in Aariq Shadoan, Crosby Lehnerz, Caden Negra and Marcelo Saturen.
The Mustangs are coming off a tough 10-8 loss to Klamath Union that included a missed late field goal attempt. Running back Daniel Iwamizu is HV’s central figure on offense, with QB Austyn Klingler growing into his role as a first-time starter.
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