The last thing South Medford wanted to do was give winless McNary hope Friday, and yet there the Celtics were, marching downfield at will on the opening drive of the nonconference football game.
Thankfully for the Panthers, it all changed before that critical drive was cashed into potential points, and South Medford never looked back in earning a 35-7 triumph in Keizer.
After pounding the football nearly the length of the field against the Panthers (4-1), McNary took to the air and saw junior quarterback Erik Barker connect with senior Griffin Oliveira near the 10-yard line. But as Oliveira turned upfield, he was met by a pair of defenders and the ball was knocked free from his grasp for a pivotal fumble recovered by junior Jagger Burrill.
“I’m sitting in the press box watching McNary just physically get after us a little bit — they made three or four first downs right in a row — and got right down in the red zone,” said Panthers head coach Bill Singler, “but our kids kept battling and came up with a huge play right there. That was a real momentum changer.”
South Medford then gave the Celtics (0-5) another jolt moments later on offense when senior quarterback Giovanni Bottero slipped a screen pass to junior receiver Austin Boster and watched him do the rest as Boster raced 66 yards to put his team in scoring position at the McNary 7. Senior Terrence Butler capped the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run.
“We take them away from a possible touchdown to us getting a turnover, and then we turn around and score, that was huge,” added Singler.
After that initial series, South Medford was able to bow its back and slow McNary’s running attack, with seniors Sam Willis and Vincent Rivera and junior Justin Josephson holding strong in the trenches.
Junior Mason DeVries added a 27-yard touchdown run after a gaping hole was cleared by his offensive line up the middle in the second quarter to make it 14-0, and an ensuing defensive stand and poor punt by McNary gave the Panthers another short field.
Butler was responsible for all 38 yards on the drive, grinding out four runs to the end zone, with the finishing touch come from 1 yard away with less than two minutes remaining in the half.
“I really challenged the line up front on defense and offense tonight,” said Singler. “We needed to establish being physical. I’m not saying we won every down but I thought our guys responded to the challenge and we ended up rushing for a good amount of yardage.”
South Medford’s 21-0 lead entering the second half was quickly tested when McNary’s Jacob Jackson stepped in front of an ill-fated pass by Bottero for an interception that he returned to the Panthers’ 25-yard line. Barker connected with Oliveira on third down for a 9-yard touchdown to trim the Celtics’ deficit to 21-7.
A defensive stand at the McNary 41 gave the host team hope on its homecoming night of a momentum change, but Willis and Josephson combined to stop the run and force another punt.
On the ensuing drive, South Medford churned out several clutch first downs with the running of Butler and DeVries and senior Adam Nanez, and got a little help on a third-and-16 play when Bottero was yanked down by his facemask to draw a penalty.
The Panthers were able to keep the chains moving and drain nearly eight minutes off the clock before finishing the drive with a 1-yard diving effort by Bottero for a 28-7 advantage.
“We’re still trying to put people away but we just haven’t gotten there yet,” said Singler. “We had to make it exciting there in the third quarter a little bit but we regrouped.”
Another key sack by South senior Jaaron Pardy halted McNary’s next drive, and Boster put the finishing touches on the road victory with a 66-yard punt return to the end zone for a 35-7 advantage.
“We have kids that can make plays,” said Singler. “I also thought our line did a good job in the fourth quarter when we needed to run the football and run some clock and take the wind out of their sails.”
Nanez later added an interception to give the Panthers two turnovers for the game.
“We were playing a team at home on their homecoming night fighting like hell to get a win,” said Singler, “so we knew it was going to be a buzzsaw and we withstood it. I think that’s the best McNary’s played to date this season.”
SM — Butler 3 run (Allen kick)
SM — DeVries 27 run (Flores kick)
SM — Butler 1 run (Flores kick)
M — Oliveira 9 pass from Barker (Jackson kick)
SM — Bottero 1 run (Allen kick)
SM — Boster 66 punt return (Allen kick)