South Medford’s football team has been under the radar thus far but Friday offers a spotlight moment for the Panthers as they travel to Hillsboro to take on a top-10 caliber squad in Liberty.
Both teams enter with 2-0 records and a hope of taking a big step toward learning exactly how good they may be this season.
“We’ve accomplished a couple goals, winning our first home game and winning our first road game, but this game will be the toughest game to date,” said Panthers head coach Bill Singler. “They’ve got great talent across the board, with good-sized linemen and good skill. They do a lot of stuff to get your attention on offense and defense.”
Coming off a 38-12 win at Canby, South Medford has high hopes after showing good improvement all across the board from Week 1. The Panthers were able to shore up execution on both sides of the ball against the typically solid Cougars, and cut down on penalties to go with better tackling and blocking for a ground game averaging almost 189 yards per game behind the efforts of senior Terrence Butler and junior Mason DeVries.
“I thought overall we did have some improvement,” said Singler, whose team returned only three starters. “I hope we continue to have improvement because we’re still learning a lot about ourselves.”
Butler was able to run for three touchdowns last week and is averaging 5.7 yards per carry with 198 yards and four rushing TDs overall on 35 carries. DeVries is averaging 7.7 yards per carry, totaling 162 yards on 21 carries to help set the tone on offense for the Panthers.
“A lot of it has to do with our offensive line,” said Singler. “I think those guys made improvement from the first game to the second game, and they’re going to have to play even better this week because Liberty presents an odd front concept a little differently than some other people do. It’s not going to come as easy, we’re going to have to be on our toes offensively with play-calling and how we react to them.”
Senior quarterback Giovanni Bottero has allowed for good balance on offense by the Panthers, completing 25 of 43 passes for 296 yards and four TDs — three going to junior Austin Boster, who leads the squad with 115 yards and seven receptions.
In Liberty, the Panthers face a defense that limited Beaverton to 5 yards rushing last week and had a pair of interceptions from junior Marquis Brown and a fumble return score by linebacker Jarett Boyce after a stripped ball by fellow senior A.J. Records.
Liberty led Beaverton 35-0 midway through the third quarter before holding off a late surge built on TD passes for a 42-27 victory. In their first week, the Falcons edged another stout team on the road in Sprague, 35-28.
“I’m hopeful we go up and play well because if we don’t, we could get exposed,” said Singler. “We have our work cut out for us.”
Leading the charge for the Falcons in their pistol option concept is senior quarterback Bradley Norman, who at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds has shown good speed as well as toughness on runs up the middle. Norman led all rushers last week, totalling 123 yards and two scores on 19 carries, and completed 11 of 16 passes for 135 yards and a TD to Aiden Maloney. Running back Jed Steinhoff ran for 61 yards and two TDs on 11 carries against the Beavers.
“They do a lot of stuff we haven’t seen before,” said Singler. “With only 3 1/2 days of preparation, it’s difficult, and yet we cause some conflict, too, with the formations we have and other things we do they have to pay attention to.”
Defensively, South Medford is allowing 203 yards per game and has gotten a good push up front to allow senior Matt Phillips to record three of the team’s five interceptions and open things up for senior linebackers Cole Boster and Jaxin Kinler.
“Football is the ultimate team sport and we really have a bunch of kids that they don’t just stand out individually, the play well collectively,” said Singler. “I think the thing that I like about our defense — and really about our team — is that they’re playing hard. That’s something as a coach that makes you feel good because sometimes you don’t see that all the time on tape or with the opponent you’re playing. That’s been kind of a hallmark of our team through the years, we do come to play.”