With only three returning starters overall, South Medford knew it had plenty of room to grow heading into Friday’s season-opening game against Centennial at Spiegelberg Stadium.
When the dust had settled, that sentiment still rang true about the Panthers — but at least they had a win under their belt.
Senior quarterback Giovanni Bottero passed for three touchdowns in his debut as a varsity starter — two to junior Austin Boster — and senior Terrence Butler scored two TDs overall as South Medford eased past the visiting Eagles, 28-7.
“We weren’t perfect and I didn’t think we would be,” said South Medford head coach Bill Singler, who guided the Panthers to a Class 6A state runner-up showing last year. “As they said in ‘Remember the Titans,’ we’re working for perfection ... but we’re not quite there yet.”
South Medford (1-0) managed 147 yards rushing and 170 passing and carried a shutout deep into the fourth quarter before Centennial (0-1) finally snapped its scoreless drought.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” said Butler, “but our (offensive) line did pretty good and I think we came out with a good win. For us it was a learning experience.”
South Medford took advantage of a fourth-down stop deep in Centennial’s own end to get on top early, scoring on its first offensive play when Boster slipped past his defender and was hit in stride by Bottero for a 22-yard scoring strike just over two minutes into the game.
That lead ballooned to 14-0 when the Eagles again failed to get out of its own side of the field, with Bottero again capping the drive on fourth down with a little drop pass to Butler, who showed determination in powering his way into the end zone.
That early edge helped settle the nerves for many of the Panthers, including Bottero.
“There were a little butterflies and it was a little surreal even for the first game,” said Bottero, who completed 16 of 29 passes for 170 yards, “but it was super-exciting coming out and being with the boys and being in a real football game and making some completions. It was a fun time.”
“We have a lot of new guys on the team, obviously, this year so I think we’re getting into the swing of things,” added Bottero. “Once we get it going after the first and second game, I think we’ll be right where we need to be.”
South Medford found itself where it needed to be again midway through the second quarter when Butler raced into the end zone for a 12-yard score that put the Panthers comfortably ahead at 21-0.
Butler finished with 102 yards rushing on 15 carries and junior Mason DeVries added 49 yards on eight carries, but the bulk of those yards came on a handful of carries for the tandem. In general, Centennial did a good job of keeping South Medford from exploiting its run game too much with several backfield tackles.
“Our linemen did great for the first game,” said Butler, “but we’re going to get it ironed out and hopefully we’ll get more gaps and less hard-earned yards.”
In general, it was that lack of cohesion — brought on by limited game action together and few reps outdoors due to poor air conditions — that seemed to slow South Medford more than the Eagles. The Panthers committed far too many penalties for Singler’s liking — getting flagged 12 times for 125 yards — and had several instances where alignment and responsibility issues hindered their progress.
“We’ve said that this team is going to be a work in progress,” said Singler. “None of them outside two or three guys have varsity game experience to any degree. Until you play it at a fast speed in a game situation, it’s hard to simulate. You tell your guys to go fast in practice, that’s one thing. You tell your guys to go fast during practice in a gym, it’s hard because you run out of space and it gets dangerous.”
Where South Medford fared well was on defense, where senior linebacker Cole Boster helped set the tone in allowing only 173 total yards by Centennial.
“I thought he defense really played hard early and kept those guys on their side of the field,” said Singler. “Anytime you get a shutout going into the fourth quarter when your (reserves) are in the game, that’s good.”
The Panthers also forced three first-half turnovers, with a fumble recovery by James Duane and interceptions by Jagger Burrill on a tipped ball and Matt Phillips on a leaping grab in the end zone to end the first half. Jace Campbell recovered a fumble in the third quarter, and fellow senior Adam Nanez also had an interception overturned due to penalty in the second half.
Austin Boster closed out the scoring for South Medford with a 5-yard grab on a Bottero pass midway through the third quarter. The speedy junior finished with five catches for 77 yards and two scores, while Nanez caught five passses for 52 yards in a game where the long ball wasn’t clicking for Bottero, who had very few outdoor reps during the preseason.
“It’s going to be a process for him, seeing the speed of the game,” said Singler of the QB. “I thought he got the ball out to the flanks well, which is good, and very accurate. We missed a couple deep balls and those are things he’ll see on film where he’s got to get the ball out, but to be honest we haven’t repped the deep ball because we can’t (indoors).”
Centennial finally broke through for first-year head coach Butch Self with 5 1/2 minutes to play when senior quarterback Cyrus Boatman, who came on in relief of senior starter Kyle Fitzgerald, scored on a 3-yard keeper. Boatman finished with 58 yards on 14 carries, while Fitzgerald ran for 34 yards on 11 carries.
SOUTH MEDFORD 28, Centennial 7
At Spiegelberg Stadium
SM — A. Boster 22 pass from Bottero (F. Alvarez kick)
SM — Butler 9 pass from Bottero (F. Alvarez kick)
SM — Butler 12 run (F. Alvarez kick)
SM — A. Boster 5 pass from Bottero (F. Alvarez kick)
C — Boatman 3 run (Allen kick)
Centennial — Fitzgerald 11-34, Barton 6-18, Leyva 1-1, Garcia 7-3, Boatman 14-58.
South Medford — Butler 15-102, DeVries 8-49, Nanez 2-(-8), Parnell 2-2, Dillon 1-2.
Centennial — Fitzgerald 4-14-1 37, Boatman 2-9-1 22.
South Medford — Bottero 16-29-0 170.
Centennial — Garcia 3-18, McCallister 1-14, Ibarra 1-14, Hein 1-13.
South Medford — A. Boster 5-77, Nanez 5-52, DeBoer 2-8, Butler 2-9, Fowler 1-15, Narlock 1-9.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry.