For the second straight year, South Medford’s football team left no doubt when it came to the annual Black and Blue Game Friday against North Medford.
The Panthers scored touchdowns on their opening two series and never let the Black Tornado inside the 25-yard line to win the 33rd edition of the crosstown rivalry in a runaway, 35-0, in front of a packed house at Spiegelberg Stadium.
It was only the seventh shutout in series history and allowed South Medford to trim its overall series deficit to 17-16 after winning its third straight over North Medford and ninth in the last 12 meetings.
“I challenged our seniors that this was a program game,” said South Medford head coach Bill Singler. “We weren’t going to be denied tonight and they played like it.”
The Panthers clinched a tie for second place in the Southwest Conference with Grants Pass at 6-3 overall and 2-2 in SWC play. South Medford will host a to-be-determined opponent, likely Reynolds, in the first round of the 32-team Class 6A state playoffs next Friday.
The Black Tornado (3-6, 1-3 SWC) was left to wait and see regarding its playoff fate in the first year under head coach Steve Turner, entering the game with a No. 33 state power ranking but moving to No. 32 as of press time despite the loss.
“The past couple weeks we were out of sync,” said Panthers senior tailback Terrence Butler, “but this week we just didn’t want another loss because that’s not what our program’s about. We knew we were the better program, we knew that we trained harder and we needed to take a good step to the playoffs.”
Butler helped propel that effort by rushing for 180 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries, stealing the thunder from North Medford senior Eli Spence in a marquee showdown. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Spence entered the game as the state’s leading rusher with 1,757 yards on 237 carries but faced an uphill challenge against the SWC’s leading defense and finished with 93 yards on 20 carries — most coming after South had built a 28-0 edge in the third quarter.
Spence’s official total of 1,850 yards on 257 carries stands as the single-season school record at North Medford.
“We knew from the beginning of the week we had to play our best to play this team,” said Butler, who was named MVP in the Great American Rivalry Series clash. “Eli Spence is a big problem around the state so we had to buckle up and be ready for that, and I believe we were more ready. We knew who was better and we just played better, and that’s how it turned out.”
Butler said he didn’t get caught up in any head-to-head battle thoughts with Spence, but he was sure happy to walk away with the win in Medford’s biggest rivalry.
“It’s not all about showing off, it’s about playing the best you can,” said Butler. “I am happy that I did ball out, but props to him, he’s still the biggest guy around. But tonight, I think I was.”
It helped that everything seemed to fall the way the Panthers wanted from the start.
South Medford got the opening kickoff, used a big return by senior Trent DeBoer and a couple runs by Butler to set up a 30-yard scoring strike from senior Giovanni Bottero to junior Austin Boster a little more than 3 minutes into the game.
“That was a really big play,” said Bottero, who completed 9 of 11 passes for 104 yards, two TDs and one interception. “That really got the momentum going in our direction. Especially after underthrowing Austin a couple times last week, finding him in the back of the end zone and scoring the first drive is just a really good way to start out a football game.”
That energetic start was taken up a notch moments later when senior defensive end Sam Willis sacked North sophomore QB Colby Neron — making only his second varsity start — to help force a three-and-out that put the ball back in the Panthers’ hands, and they quickly cashed in on a 58-yard TD run by Butler.
It didn’t hurt that South added a new wrinkle to its offense this week, sliding senior lineman Cole Boster into the backfield and letting him open up things in the running game.
“I just felt electric and it was gone,” said Butler of his first-quarter TD. “Plus we put Cole Boster in the backfield this week so having a big guy like that with you, you can run anywhere. It was nice.”
While South’s adjustment seemed to pay dividends, it wasn’t the same on the North side as Turner and company devised a few things to take pressure off Spence and catch the Panthers off guard. Neron sent a few deep pass attempts toward 5-11 junior Devyn Grafton and 6-1 sophomore Chance Costanzo, but none of them cashed in against the defense of 5-6 senior cornerback Adam Nanez or 5-9 junior Mitchell Walker.
“You’ve got to take your shots, we haven’t done it all year,” said Turner. “New quarterback, new receiver ... we thought we had some good matchups and might as well try. We just didn’t connect.”
Neron completed only 2 of 10 passes for 24 yards — both completions to junior Jett Carpenter — and his one interception came under duress as he was pressured by South’s overloaded front line and the ball hit a few players before winding up in the arms of senior Vincent Rivera at the North 24.
A few plays later, Bottero hit Austin Boster on a fourth-down slant for a 17-yard score that made it 21-0 early in the second quarter. Boster finished with three catches for 54 yards, while Nanez had four receptions for 35 yards.
The Black Tornado found similar misfortune to start the second half, with Turner opting to go for it on a fourth-and-1 from North’s own 28-yard line. After receiving the snap, Neron turned toward Spence for a handoff but had his feet caught up in the line and the ensuing toss went behind his target and wound up being a fumble recovered by South senior Jace Campbell at the 17.
Two plays later, Butler scooted into the end zone for a 28-0 lead three minutes into the third quarter. Butler added a 2-yard TD in the fourth quarter.
“Your down 21 points, we can’t sit and play even with them,” Turner said of the decision to go for it. “You’ve got to take some chances, and it wasn’t there tonight.”
South Medford’s swarming defense, led by seniors Jaxin Kinler-Gossman and Cole Garske and junior Justin Josephson combined to limit North to 135 yards of total offense, while the Panthers racked up 308.
“The defensive guys were flying to the ball everywhere,” said Bottero. “They played great.”
North also had a highlight moment on defense, with junior Josh Baptiste making a leaping grab in the end zone to deny Austin Boster a potential third touchdown.