MEDFORD — Three touchdowns in the third quarter helped Medford claim a 48-44 victory over Welch here Friday, Sept. 22.

The loss was the first of the season for the Wildcats, who had carried a 38-26 lead into the fourth quarter.

“They are much better than they were last year, and we knew that going in,” Welch head coach Ryan Gleaves said. “We were a little banged up. Our top three ball carriers were banged up and Gunner (quarterback Gunner Johnson), too. That is tough because it limits your offense a little bit.

“We tried to do what we could. Hat off, they brought their A game.”

Johnson accounted for 400 yards in total offense. He was 6 of 31 for 231 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 169 yards and a pair of scores on 23 carries.

The other four players who touched the ball managed only 68 yards rushing.

“We really couldn’t get the running game clicking,” Gleaves said. “He (Johnson) busted one for 67 yards, but other than that, we were nickel and diming it. There weren’t a lot of big plays. They loaded the box up on us. When we did complete a pass, it was usually a big gain or a touchdown.”

Johnson teamed with Braxton Turner on a 45-yard touchdown pass to give the Cats an early 8-0 lead. However the momentum was blunted when senior Caleb Haynie returned the ensuing kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown. A run for the conversion failed.

The Cats got a 3-yard run from Johnson to push the lead to 14-6, but Medford scored twice in the second to go up 20-14.

Momentum took another swing when Brace Welch caught a 61-yard touchdown pass from Johnson then caught the conversion to make it 22-20 at the break.

The teams traded touchdowns in the third period, Johnson on a 1-yard keeper and Medford on a 9-yard run.

Johnson hooked up with Brace Welch on a 44-yard scoring play early in the fourth, but the Cardinals turned the tide their way with TD runs of 9, 26 and 23 yards.

The 57-yard pass from Johnson to Brace Welch created what would be the final margin.

“It was a game we knew going in they were improved,” Gleaves said. “It was big if we’re going to get into the playoffs. Now we are going to have to find another way in. That was a game we were hoping to get.”

Brace Welch caught four passes for 173 yards and the three scores. Turner and Jake Davis-Bissing each had one reception.

Josh Baker rushed for 47 yards on 18 carries.

Johnson and Brace Welch also were the Wildcats’ defensive leaders.

Johnson logged 12 solo tackles while Brace Welch was in on nine solos and one assist.

The Wildcats host Bluejacket on Friday, Sept. 29.

The Chieftains coasted to a 54-24 win over Covington-Douglas on Friday, Sept 22.