"This was a big opener for us," coach Troy Burgess said. "Owen Valley is a 4A program, a high-quality team -- big, strong and physical."
South Putnam took control of the game early in the first quarter with stifling defensive pressure and a balanced offensive attack. After pounding the ball with a tough running game on the legs of Brayden Freeman and Zach Smith, the Eagles exploited the Patriots' defense with a few big passing plays to receivers Rob Gibson -- who caught short several short passes from the slot receiver position and gained yards in bunches after the catch -- and Dean Varvel.
"We're going to run the ball, and everybody knows that," Burgess said. "But they started loading the box, putting nine guys up around the line of scrimmage, and we were able to get some guys open down the field."
Freeman and Smith had proved to be a powerful one-two punch. Freeman's bruising running up the middle wore down the Owen Valley defense and allowed Smith to break several big-gainers. Smith had two offensive rushing touchdowns and another defensive score, returning an interception for a touchdown late in the first half, a play which for all intents and purposes sealed the game, giving the Eagles a 28-0 lead at intermission.
The South Putnam dominance continued after the break, with the Eagles taking their opening possession down the field for another touchdown, a drive which was prolonged by a crucial fourth-and-short conversion. With a 34-0 lead late in the third quarter, the win was in the bag.
But it wasn't all fun and games for South Putnam on opening night. With less than eight minutes left to play, starting quarterback Grant Zimmerman suffered an apparent rib injury after he was hit late. The Owen Valley defender was called for roughing the passer. Zimmerman appeared to be okay, walking off the field and in high spirits after the game.
"It was a rib injury, and I'm hoping he's OK," Burgess said. "The problem is, we don't really have a backup quarterback right now. I wanted to get one more series out of him, get him a few more reps, and the second-team was coming in next series."
Burgess was also disappointed with some unsportsmanlike penalties assessed to his team in the fourth quarter, although Owen Valley was usually flagged as well for off-setting penalties.
"Our conditioning and our discipline have got to get better," Burgess said. "That's on me. With the heat we've had, I've been hesitant to really make these guys run a bunch during practices. When you get tired, that's when you make stupid mistakes like that."
Still, he praised his team for its high effort and execution, especially in the first half.
"I was very pleased," Burgess said. "We have two sophomores and a freshman, our center, starting up front. I thought they all did a nice job picking up their assignments and our backs ran hard. That was a very good start for us, but we've still got to get better."