Oct. 9—For the past five weeks, the South Medford football team has found itself on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
A lot of that has to do with the grueling schedule the Panthers have played, which has easily been one of the most difficult in the entire state.
But on homecoming night at Spiegelberg Stadium, South, at long last, got off the schneid.
Senior running back Carson Joe scored three touchdowns and junior Andrew Walker showed off his electrifying speed on a school-record 95-yard pick-six, helping South Medford claim its first win of the season with a 31-19 victory over Southwest Conference rival Grants Pass.
"Well, it's been a long time coming," South Medford head coach Bill Singler said with a laugh. "We've had some rough games, and the first five games we played some pretty tough opponents. But I think it hardened our team a little bit. I think these kids knew how big this game was — we don't have too many opportunities to get a win. We felt like with it being homecoming and facing Grants Pass — who we've always matched up pretty well with — it was our time."
South (1-5, 1-1 SWC) snapped its five-game season-opening winning streak with the win, but the Panthers were dealt a blow when junior quarterback Deacon Edgar had to leave the game in the third quarter after picking up an apparent back injury on a two-point conversion attempt.
Singler said it's a situation that he and the rest of his coaching staff will have to monitor throughout the week as South prepares to face Roseburg at home next Friday.
Edgar, coming off a monster game last week against Sheldon, was 7-of-11 for 96 yards and rushed for a team-best 80 yards on 15 carries.
"It hurt to have our quarterback get hurt, obviously, so we'll have to evaluate that situation," Singler said.
South marched right down the field on its first drive of the game, chewing nearly six minutes off the clock and took a 6-0 lead on Joe's 9-yard touchdown run up the middle.
Grants Pass (1-5, 0-2) took its only lead of the night midway through the second quarter on a 3-yard touchdown run from junior running back Trevor Reeves.
Reeves handled the bulk of the workload after starting running back Asher Yriarte went out injured in the first half. Reeves rushed the ball 24 times for 120 yards.
But the Panthers responded on the very next drive, taking advantage of a big kick return from Colton Samis to put his team in Cavemen territory. Joe scored his second touchdown of the night, this time from 2 yards out, to give South the lead right back at 12-7.
"I think it was really good and it kept our team staying up," said Joe, who finished with 49 yards on 15 carries. "Once our team got up we didn't let down and it was good to continue our energy."
South pushed its lead to 19-7 when Edgar scored on a 1-yard run with 17 seconds to go before the half
""I thought the kids played well in the first half," Singler said. "To start that way was really big. We told them we had to get off to a good start, we had to get off to a fast start. We just couldn't let Grants Pass feel like they could gain the momentum."
Grants Pass cut the deficit to 19-13 on its first drive of the second half when junior quarterback Jace Blanchard connected with senior tight end Josh Hart for a 44-yard TD down the seam.
But just like they did in the first half, the Panthers answered back again, as Joe scored for the third time on the night with a 3-yard TD up the middle.
"We made a couple key mistakes right before halftime that gave (South Medford) a lot of momentum," Grants Pass head coach John Musser said. "South always plays tougher than nails against us, they've got some tremendous team speed and they're able to overcome some other areas that aren't as strong because of their team speed. That definitely showed tonight."
Walker, who has been South's top big-play threat this season, made his presence known on defense when he picked off Blanchard on the South 5-yard line and raced down the Panthers' sideline before cutting it back across the field and going virtually untouched into the end zone.
It broke the previous school record of 91 yards held by Oscar Veal that was set in 1986, the first year South Medford High School was open.
"I was relieved it was another touchdown on the board for us," Joe said of Walker's interception. "We were starting to get a little down on that point, and that was another game-changer to keep our energy up."
Blanchard finished 22-of-35 for 177 yards with a touchdown but also threw a pair of interceptions. Grants Pass receivers Aiden Dietz and Jackson Tunick each caught six passes for 45 and 48 yards, respectively.
As a team, South Medford finished with 157 yards rushing. Senior Brycen Guches, who's working his way back from an ankle injury, had five catches for 72 yards.
"It's definitely a big stepping stone for our team," Joe said of the win. "We need it to kick-start our season and keep it going into next weekend. We're going to go in just like we came in against Grants Pass and get another win."
SM — Joe 9 run (Parker kick miss)
GP — Reeves 2 run (Jordan kick)
SM — Joe 2 run (Edgar pass fail)
SM — Edgar 1 run (Parker kick)
GP — Hart 44 pass from Blanchard (Jordan kick fail)
SM — Joe 3 run (Edgar run fail)
SM — Walker 95 interception return Joe run fail)
GP — Reeves 1 run (Hart run fail)
Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.