A couple of big plays were the difference in a close showdown at South Medford on Friday night, as the visiting Del Norte Warriors fell 21-7 to the Panthers.
The loss was the first of the season for the Warriors, who had rolled over their first two opponents by a combined 113-13.
But the Panthers were a far cry from Kelseyville and Piedmont and their defense was able to hold the Warriors offense in check for much of the night.
“We can take a million things from this game to get better,” head coach Nick White said. “That’s the good thing. We have a lot to work on.”
The Warriors opened the scoring midway through the first quarter and led 7-0 at halftime.
They had an opportunity to add to their lead after driving inside the South Medford five-yard line right before halftime, but the Panthers defense held firm to keep it a one-score game.
The home team had the better of exchanges in the second half, rallying to tie the game late in the third quarter and adding two late TDs on the way to victory.
The speedy Andrew Walker, who is one of the fastest track and field athletes in Oregon, broke free for a 47-yard TD to give South Medford the lead with under three minutes remaining and the Del Norte offense was unable to respond after that.
Defensively, the Warriors were solid all night against a quality Medford offense.
“I thought we played really, really good on defense,” White said. “Our game plan, our execution were stellar, except for one play.
The Warriors did out-gain the Panthers 260-192 in total offense, although most of it came in the first half.
They ran for 227 yards on 37 carries, but managed just 33 yards through the air and missed on a couple of big passing plays in the fourth quarter that could have swung the game their way.
Giancarlo Desolenni had a big night on both sides of the ball for Del Norte, making three big tackles for a loss and rushing for 80 yards on seven carries.
“He was amazing on defense,” White said. “He was our defensive leader. He has a nose for the ball and he’s an elite player.
“I thought all the kids battled the elements. It was over 100 degrees at kickoff, and I thought they battled all the way to the end.”
RJ Loftin added 70 yards rushing on 16 carries, including a short TD run.
Kicker Daniel Gonzalez, who has been Mr. Reliable for the Warriors this year, added the PAT.
Gavin Skerik also had an impact running the ball, finishing with 50 yards on five carries, while Aden Mintonye had 40 yards on eight carries.
The Del Norte JVs won their matchup against South Medford in Crescent City on Thursday night by a score of 7-6 and are now 3-0.
The Warriors (2-1) will host West Valley next weekend.