South Medford senior quarterback Giovanni Bottero had heard about enough talk regarding his downfield throws.
The 6-foot-2 signal caller had been dynamic all summer dialing deep but, for whatever reason, simply couldn’t find the right timing through nearly 15 quarters in his first year as a starter.
But in a 14-12 game with no room for error, Bottero stepped up with perfectly placed downfield strikes to Trevor Marthoski and Austin Boster as the third-quarter clock wound down.
Then on the first play of the fourth quarter, Bottero dropped back and lofted a pinpoint pass to Boster for a 46-yard touchdown that proved to be the deciding factor in a 21-12 triumph over visiting McMinnville at Spiegelberg Stadium Friday night.
“We’ve been waiting for that all year,” said Panthers head coach Bill Singler. “We’ve had Boster open two or three times this year and can’t get the ball out there to him. You can see what kind of receiver he is, he can explode by you with really good downfield speed, and Gio threw a really nice long ball.”
Bottero wound up completing 15 of 20 passes for 255 yards and two TD passes to Boster, who hauled in six catches for 135 yards, but none brought the feeling of relief as that last downfield effort.
“We came to an agreement that I wasn’t going to underthrow him again so I didn’t do that,” Bottero said with a broad smile. “I found him in the end zone on that one and found a couple other receivers who really just came through for me tonight. I’m glad we could make that connection and hopefully that keeps happening for the rest of the season.”
“It’s a confidence booster, for sure, knowing that we have that weapon and that ability to throw the ball downfield,” he added. “If we’re getting that connection now it’s really good knowing that we already have the run game with Terrence Butler and a really good line. With Austin and Trent DeBoer and Adam Nanez getting out there, I think we can find all of them wherever they may be.”
On Boster’s end, it was a culmination of hard work the duo have put in during the offseason — and the 5-8 standout knew right away that the Panthers would be cashing in from the moment Bottero let the ball loose.
“When I saw the ball in the air I knew it was a touchdown,” said Boster, who also had an interception in the win. “I knew it was right where it needed to be. When you come out and play hard, good things happen.”
The Bottero-Boster connection has been a staple of the early going this season, and played a key factor in allowing South Medford (3-1) to take an early lead over McMinnville (3-1). Spurred by their hookups, the Panthers managed to move into position for Butler to take over, and the senior tailback burst through the middle for a 31-yard TD run with 1:55 to go in the first quarter.
“Me and Gio are friends on and off the field so a lot of the connection just comes off chemistry,” said Boster. “He trusts me and I trust him. Our relationship is built off trust and I know that he’s going to put the ball where I need it, that’s all there is to it.”
“It’s been a struggle the first couple games just not being able to hit (the long ball) but we just have a bunch of young guys,” added the junior. “Gio obviously didn’t get a lot of reps last year and I think people are doubting him but he’s a good quarterback. He’s the guy, he’s got it all, the whole package. He’s going to compete and we all have faith in him.”
After McMinnville answered with a 7-yard touchdown reception by Colton Smith, who finished with 12 catches for 155 yards, Panthers senior Cole Garske gave his team a big lift when he came off the edge to block the ensuing point-after kick to keep South ahead 7-6.
The Panthers picked up the pace and ultimately answered with a 19-yard connection between Bottero and Boster to take a 14-6 lead into halftime.
“With his speed and his agility and his hands, he’s really a go-to guy with comebacks, fades — any individual or combo route, really,” said Bottero of Boster. “He’s kind of deceiving as a shorter kid but he’s fast and he’s got really good feet, really good legs and really good hands so he’s a real weapon.”
Overall, the Panthers outgained the Grizzlies 376-280 in total offense but a huge discrepancy in penalties — South Medford was flagged 15 times for 140 yards and McMinnville three for 30 yards — kept things in doubt until a late fourth-quarter stand dashed any comeback hopes.
“It just came down to who wanted it more, and we didn’t want to make a fool of ourselves in this stadium,” said Boster. “We’ve got a lot of things to work on. This was a good win for us and also a good learning experience for us. We got kind of lucky with the fouls to finally get a stop at the end, but we’ve got to cut down on penalties and get to work for next week.”
McMinnville’s Sam DuPuis completed 21 of 39 passes for 275 yards, two TDs to Smith and one interception but faced steady pressure all night from South Medford, led by linebackers Jaxin Kinler, Cole Boster, James Duane and Jayven Butler.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry