Third-quarter implosion sinks Centennial
|South Medford Panthers|
It is five minutes of follies that the Centennial football team would rather forget.
After scoring on the final play of the first half, the Eagles came out of the locker room and received the kickoff with a chance to pull into the lead.
Instead, Centennial suffered a collection of turnovers that put South Medford well on its way to a 40-13 win in Friday's season opener.
After bobbling the return, Centennial took possession inside its 10-yard line. The Eagles avoided immediate disaster when they pounced on their own fumble on the first play.
But the reprieve wouldn't last.
An incomplete pass and a delay of game penalty backed Centennial inside it's 5-yard line when a fumbled shotgun snap left the ball rolling around in the end zone. South Medford lineman Nate Krupp swooped in for the defensive touchdown.
Centennial fumbled the ball again on its next possession when South Medford's Rylee Heim crashed into the backfield and laid on a hit that popped the ball loose. It took a series of wild bounces toward the hashmarks where South teammate Justin Josephson completed the turnover.
"I saw the ball bouncing, and I just scooped it up as it came toward me — I would have scored if I hadn't tripped," Josephson said.
South Medford was back in the end zone three plays later when Panthers' QB Toren Tuttle left a short pass for Mitchell Walker, who found a seam through a crowd of Centennial tacklers 10 yards for the score.
South Medford kicked off for the third time in a matter of minutes.
And again, the Eagles could not keep hold of the ball.
This time it wasn't a fumble, but South's Jagus Cattanach picking off a pass along the sideline.
South Medford put more points on the board when Tuttle found Austin Boster for a 5-yard touchdown at the pylon.
Believe it or not, the follies were not finished.
Centennial missed a pitch-out on its next play from scrimmage, and South's Cameron Davis scooped it up and raced 20 yards to the end zone.
In five minutes of game time, South had seen it's 7-6 halftime edge blow up to a commanding 33-6 margin.
"In all my years coaching I don't think I've seen a game swing so quickly," South coach Bill Singler said.
Centennial tried to climb back into contention when Alan Rivera recovered a Panthers' fumble, giving Centennial possession deep in South Medford territory. The Eagles kept their scoring chance alive when QB Kyle Fitzgerald hit tight end Alex Ibarra over the middle to convert on third-and-6.
Moments later, that duo connected again for the score with Ibarra making the catch along the sideline and diving over the goal line as if he had been rocketed off a trampoline.
The touchdown brought the Eagles within 33-13 with 11:13 to play, but Centennial was thwarted on three consecutive onsides kick attempts, twice by penalties, and South Medford took possession on the Eagles' end of the field.
The Panthers put the game away a few plays later when Boster caught a 14-yard strike on third-and-1 — his third touchdown of the night.
South Medford seemed poised to take a shutout into the halftime locker room, but a fumble near midfield gave Centennial the ball with less than a minute on the clock.
Fitzgerald fired a pair of short passes to Kahleed McCallister and Ibarra before the Eagles spent their final timeout of the half with 0:03 on the clock. With the ball at the 33-yard line, a desperation heave to the end zone was the obvious play.
Fitzgerald rolled to his right and fired a high ball that hit Daniel Leyva in the end zone only to trickle down his body to the turf.
But the half wasn't over yet.
Leyva was shoved in the back while the ball was still in the air, and the pass interference flag kept the teams on the field. Add an unsportsmanlike penalty on South Medford, and the ball was moved inside the 10-yard line for one untimed play.
Centennial made it count when Fitzgerald lasered a pass to McCallister on an out pattern. He secured the catch on the goal line and stretched the ball over the pylon to assure the touchdown before going out of bounds.
South Medford deflected the extra-point try to maintain a slim 7-6 halftime lead.
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This story is slated for our Tuesday, Sept. 10, print edition.
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