With aspirations of an undefeated season now a thing of the past for the South Medford and North Medford football teams thanks to Week 3 losses, all that matters now for each program is how they bounce back.
For the Panthers (2-1), that means a return home Friday night to their friendly confines at Spiegelberg Stadium as they play host to unbeaten McMinnville.
For the Black Tornado (2-1), it means a return for head coach Steve Turner to his former stomping grounds at Mountain View High and another physical, familiar showdown against a team from Bend.
“All is not lost and we discussed that for a little bit,” said South Medford head coach Bill Singler of his team’s 38-20 loss to Liberty in Hillsboro last week. “We’d like to win every game but that’s unrealistic, and especially this year with the lack of varsity experience we have, certainly that’s not going to happen. We’ve got a lot of season ahead of us still with a home game this week. We’ve just got to go out and work on getting better.”
The same outlook is being entertained across town, where Turner’s Tornado suffered its first heartbreak in a 29-28 overtime loss to Bend in its first game at Spiegelberg.
“We’ve talked about a lot of things this week,” said Turner of his team’s mindset, “and the most important thing is staying together and continuing to work hard and practice hard and get better at what we do. The message hasn’t changed, the opponent hasn’t changed, it’s just all about doing it better.”
In other local 6A action, Grants Pass (2-1) plays host to Southridge (1-2) on Friday.
In 5A action, the Midwestern League opens divisional play when Eagle Point (3-0) travels to South Eugene (2-1), Crater (1-2) plays at North Eugene (1-2) and Ashland (2-1) is at Churchill (2-1) in the South Division.
For South Medford, turnovers and a slow start helped account for its first setback of the season against a veteran Liberty squad that moved into the No. 9 spot in the Class 6A coaches poll with the triumph.
“We’ve done pretty well in that area (turnovers) the last couple years but it just got away from us pretty quickly in the first half with a couple interceptions and a fumble, which led to points for them,” said Singler. “We were fighting an uphill battle the whole day, but our kids kept competing and got back in the game a little bit.”
Bright spots in that game came from the running back tandem of Terrence Butler and Mason DeVries, who each ran for second-half touchdowns, and Singler said he expects to try and boost the carries for DeVries moving forward. Butler, a senior, has run 49 times for 270 yards and five touchdowns, while the junior DeVries has averaged 8.7 yards per carry in totaling 227 yards on 26 attempts.
“Offensively we ran the ball well at time but I think we’ve got to get the ball more in the hand of Mason DeVries,” said Singler. “He’s deserving of more carries, not that Terrence is not deserving because he’s run really well so far, but we’ve got to be able to utilize them both a little more.”
Another area of needed improvement is in the downfield throws of senior quarterback Giovanni Bottero, who has completed 39 of 67 passes for 462 yards, five TDs and two interceptions — both coming last week.
“Gio’s got to take this game experience and hopefully get better each week,” said Singler. “He’s throwing for a really good percentage, but our downfield throws aren’t doing well and we’ve had a couple inopportune times where there’s been an interception or incompletion when it could’ve gone for touchdowns.”
Limited practice reps outdoors has hindered Bottero in the early going, and the first-year starter certainly has the capability with speedy receivers Austin Boster (11 catches, 217 yards, four TDs) and Trent DeBoer (eight catches, 62 yards).
“He’s still learning about pocket presence and game speed,” said Singler of the QB. “You can try to simulate that in practice but until you do it in a game situation, it’s just entirely different. He’s just got to be more trusting and that’s part of what we’re going through. He needs to worry about himself and not what the other positions are doing. This summer without any people rushing he was stepping through the ball, making nice long throws but here he’s not stepping into throws or throwing off his back foot and it’s not far enough.”
McMinnville features a steady running attack and play-action passing game spearheaded by returning senior quarterback Sam DuPuis and receivers Parker Spence and Colton Smith. On the ground, Kerby Hartzell and Noah Kepler have helped keep the chains moving for the Grizzlies (3-0), who are coming off a 23-21 win at South Salem.
“They have enough of an arsenal to cause you concern,” said Singler. “We’re hopeful that with the competition we’ve played and getting back at home and the kind of weapons we have offensively we can give them problems and maybe get back on track again.”
NORTH MEDFORD AT MOUNTAIN VIEW: One week after facing a familiar foe in Bend, Steve Turner faces a program as close to him as any in Mountain View (2-1), which he guided to the 2011 Class 5A state championship before stepping down after a stellar four-year run.
One of Turner’s top assistants with the Cougars, Brian Crum, was named as his successor and has kept Mountain View competitive in the years since, including a run to the 5A state semifinals a year ago. Several other staffers familiar to Turner also remain.
“This week it’s kind of the same thing, it’s like playing ourselves really,” said Turner. “If you watch the game, you’ll watch the same offense going against each other so it’s going to be like an intrasquad scrimmage. I’m sure you’re going to see some of the same calls.”
That familiarity only serves to remind North Medford that it will have its work cut out on Friday.
“It’s going to be a real test for us,” added Turner. “It should be a real battle because they’re a real physical football team. Bend was physical, too, so two weeks in row going against us is a tough team.”
Senior running back Jonas Larson (5-11, 170) leads the 6A level with 771 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns on 88 carries as he works behind an imposing offensive line.
“He has tremendous speed and burst when he sees a hole,” said Turner of Larson, “and he reads the running game as well as anybody I’ve ever seen. He’s a special player. And they probably have the best offensive linemen that I’ve seen this year without a doubt. They just maul people and that creates opportunities for the running back and offensive game.”
Senior QB Caden Cromwell has also been good at catching teams off guard with his passing, throwing for two TDs in a 49-41 loss last week against Grants Pass. Forrest Love has been his primary target with 13 receptions for 304 yards.
North Medford senior running back Eli Spence isn’t far off Larson’s pace with 745 yards and 10 TDs on 67 carries, while junior QB Brennan Stults has completed 16 of 28 passes for 255 yards and four scores, with his lone interception of the season returned for a score last week by Bend in what Turner said was an ill-advised play call on his part.
“Defensively we gave up 14 points in regulation and coach Turner gave up 7,” said the coach. “We’re all invested in that loss.”
Throw in an unfortunate lost fumble at the 1-yard line early in the game and the Black Tornado isn’t far from considering itself to be unbeaten, which Turner hopes helps bolster more confidence in his crew moving forward. The Black Tornado ranks first among Southwest Conference squads in total offense at 467 yards gained per game, and second in total defense at 293 yards allowed per game with a plus-10 turnover ratio.