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South Medford beats Sprague to improve to 5-0

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Panthers off to their best start since opening 8-0 in the 2011 season

It was the kind of week that every coach knows is going to be full of things that can potentially throw a wrench into things.

Homecoming week has its unique challenges, and this year had the added factor of kickoff time being moved up a couple of hours, too.

But when push came to shove for the Panthers as the sun set at Spiegelberg Stadium, the same end result from their previous four games rang true.

Senior quarterback Deacon Edgar rushed for two touchdowns and threw for another in the first half and fellow senior Dylan Espinosa made his presence felt on both sides of the ball in No. 8-ranked South Medford’s 33-18 win over Sprague to push the Panthers’ record to 5-0.

“I knew it was going to be a game that was like pulling teeth,” said South Medford head coach Bill Singler, “because we’ve had a lot of distractions this week with homecoming events every day, moving the kickoff time to 5 o’clock and screwing up all the timelines that we’ve normally used for the last 25 years. I knew it was going to be a rough deal, but I also told the team that sometimes you have to win games when they aren’t pretty, and this was going to be one of those games.

“I thought we did enough to win it on both sides of the ball. It wasn’t flashy, there wasn’t a lot of big plays and all that kind of jazz, but we made the plays when we had to on both sides of the ball.”

The fifth straight win to open the season marks the first time since the 2011 campaign that the Panthers have begun 5-0. In that season, South won its first eight games before finishing the year 9-2.

South, which also improved to 3-0 in the South/Central Football Conference, will put that perfect record on the line next Friday night when it faces top-ranked Sheldon (5-0, 3-0 SCFC) in Eugene. The Irish recorded a 56-0 win over Roseburg on Friday night.

“It’s hard not to feel good about this,” said Espinosa, who rushed for 86 yards and a pair of second-half touchdowns and had an interception on defense. “We’re 5-0 and we put in so much work over the summer with (morning) workouts, practice in the afternoon and we’ve all been grinding. It just feels amazing.”

It was not an optimal start for the Panthers, though, who fumbled on their opening drive and then saw the Olympians (2-3, 1-2) drive right down the field to take a 6-0 lead on Athan Palmateer’s 33-yard pass to receiver Drew Rodriguez.

That proved to be the only catch of the first half for Rodriguez, a three-star recruit who is verbally committed to play at Colorado State next year. He finished with five catches for 69 yards and a TD.

South, however, took all of 2 1/2 minutes to answer, with Edgar connecting with Andrew Walker on a 52-yard strike right down the heart of the Sprague defense.

“After that first drive, we just had to bring it back together,” said Espinosa. “During the whole week of practice and in warmups, we didn’t do our best and everything felt off. We just came back and we weren’t going to lose our homecoming game.”

Sprague made it two touchdowns in as many drives to open the game on a 3-yard touchdown run from Barik Hill. But, just like after the Olympians’ first scoring drive, the Panthers answered back, as Edgar raced into the end zone from 15 yards out to put South ahead 14-12 with 22 seconds to go in the first quarter.

Edgar added a second rushing touchdown, this time from a yard out on a QB sneak, midway through the second quarter to put the Panthers ahead 20-12.

“We had a good test last week, a shootout type of game, and I think that prepared us for tonight,” said Edgar, who was battling sickness this week. “They score, we score, so we knew we were going to have to answer back and fight through adversity. I think we did well tonight doing that, so I’m proud of us.”

Added Singler: “We fell behind Del Norte, we fell behind McNary, so we’ve been there before. It’s not like we’re going to panic or anything, but I was getting a little concerned when we started getting guys hurt. We lost three offensive starters in that game and some of them play on defense, too, so that’s something that’s hard to patchwork during a game.”

Espinosa finished with a team-high 13 carries as South went running back by committee in the absence of starter Ryder Scheid and capped a 5 1/2-minute drive with a 4-yard touchdown run to make it a two-possession game at 26-12 with 3:53 left in the third quarter.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder added a second rushing TD from 4 yards out to put the game away in the fourth quarter, as South took advantage of a huge Will Greenwood kick return following Sprague’s last score of the night.

South finished with 204 yards on the ground overall, with Greenwood and Edgar both rushing for 46 yards.

“Dylan and Will did so great,” said Edgar. “Will was upset over his fumble (on the first drive of the game), but he had that big kick return down to the red zone. I know how much heart both of them have and they stepped up into their roles tonight and did their thing.”

Edgar had another efficient night through the air, finishing 10-of-15 for 147 yards with a touchdown and one interception.

South receiver Josh Phillips had five catches for 67 yards before leaving the game injured early in the second half. Walker caught a pair of passes for 62 yards and a touchdown.

“It was a rough kind of game with the 5 o’clock start and we had to acclimate ourselves to that,” said Edgar. “Then we had a couple of guys get hurt, but we wanted to be 5-0 and that sounded great, so we had to win.”

Sprague12006—18

South Medford14667—33

S — Rodriguez 33 pass from Palmateer (kick failed)

SM — Walker 52 pass from Edgar (Henry kick)

S — Hill 3 run (run failed)

SM — Edgar 15 run (Henry kick)

SM — Edgar 1 run (kick failed)

SM — Espinosa 4 run (bad snap)

S — Johnson 1 run (run failed)

SM — Espinosa 4 run (Henry kick)

Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

South Medford's Dylan Espinosa pushes through the red zone during the 3rd quarter at Spiegelberg Stadium Friday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford's Deacon Edgar looks for a pass during the 4th quarter at Spieglberg Stadium Friday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford's Andrew Walker breaks away after making a catch for a score during the 1st quarter at Spiegelberg Stadium Friday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford's Deacon Edgar scores during the 1st quarter at Spiegelberg Stadium Friday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford's Ty Henry and Tobias Akpan stop Sprague's Preston Simmons during the 4th quarter at Spiegelberg Stadium Friday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford's Ty Henry breaks tackles after making a catch for a first down during the 3rd quarter at Spiegelberg Stadium Friday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford's Deacon Edgar looks for the end zone scrambling during the 1st quarter at Spiegelberg Stadium Friday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford's Deacon Edgar makes a throw for a first down during the 3rd quarter at Spiegelberg Stadium Friday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford's Spencer King dives on the loose ball for a turnover during the 4th quarter at Spiegelberg Stadium Friday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
South Medford's Josh Pihillips makes a catch for a first down during the 1st quarter at Spiegelberg Stadium Friday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
The South Medford defense stops Srapue's Athan Palmateer during the 2nd quarter at Spiegelberg Stadium Friday night. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]