Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
South Medford didn't need much help but the seventh-ranked Panthers got it anyway from visiting Westview in a one-sided nonleague football affair Friday night at Spiegelberg Stadium.
The Wildcats fumbled away the second snap of the game, then inexplicably tried — and failed on — a fake punt on fourth-and-13 from their own 17 in the next series and generally struggled to get anything going in a four-turnover outing dominated by South Medford, which won 34-0.
For the second straight week, the Panthers' defense provided the key to victory with their constant harassment of Westview quarterback Julius Rucker and containment of the Wildcats' pistol offense.
South Medford (2-0) limited West Salem to 13 yards rushing and 138 overall last week and made those numbers look gaudy compared to what the Panthers were able to accomplish on Friday. South held Westview (1-1) to 22 total yards — 29 through the air and minus-7 on the ground — and only four first downs.
"When you have defense like that, you've got a chance to win every game," said Panthers head coach Bill Singler. "For two games they've been phenomenal."
Buoyed by a frontline rotation that included Tristian Lallo, Garrett Watson, Josh Bowden, Sam Curtius and Kyle Eli, South was able to get a solid push in the trenches and leave room for linebackers Pat Alexander, Joel Goin and Anthony Gomez to clean up any leftovers.
"Defensively we just tried our best," said Eli, who pulled the ball from Rucker's hands to set up South's first score of the second half. "All we needed to do was just do our jobs. If we just do our jobs, flow to our gaps and do what we need to do, the ballgame's just going to come to us."
Bowden shot through the gap on the second play and caught everyone off guard with a quick burst that saw him scoop up a mishandled snap by Rucker as if he was taking a handoff and push a pile of Wildcats to the Westview 16-yard line.
Four plays later, junior placekicker Riley Williams drilled the first of two field goals, this from 30 yards out.
"We took advantage of it, not as much as we should have, but we made points," Singler said of capitalizing on the turnover. "It's nice to have a really nice kicker in Riley Williams, and good game experience for us to use our field goal team and put points on the board like that."
South pushed Westview backwards again following the second of Williams' four touchbacks, then punter Matt Gorman opted to take a chance on the fateful fourth-down play but was hauled down short of the marker on a head's up play by Ben Casebier.
Two plays later, quarterback Joe McLaughlin hit fellow senior Adrian Garcia in the right corner on a fade route for a 16-yard touchdown and 10-0 lead inside four minutes of play.
After another three-and-out, the Panthers capped a long drive with a 22-yard field goal by Williams to go up 13-0, then put a huge defensive stamp on the game when junior Eric Wallan intercepted Rucker and danced through the Wildcats for a 62-yard touchdown return.
South's 20-0 advantage held up through a scoreless third quarter that saw a jaw-dropping 70-yard touchdown scamper by Christian Bowley called back on a penalty. After Eli powered the ball away from Rucker on a third-down run, the Panthers marched 38 yards in seven plays to go up 27-0 on a 4-yard TD run by Casebier. That scoring drive was highlighted by a sensational 24-yard catch and run by Garcia on a third-and-16 play.
After throwing the ball a total of 17 times in last week's win — for only 42 yards — McLaughlin aired it out that many times in the first 22 minutes. The senior wound up completing 20 of 33 passes for 179 yards with one TD and two interceptions.
"I think it's the way they played their defense, it just gave us more opportunities to throw the ball," said Garcia, who had nine catches for 96 yards. "We watched the film and saw the opportunities and we just took advantage of them in gametime."
McLaughlin was at his best on quick hitters to Garcia and Bowley, but also showed good touch on a few rollout passes to Max Farthing and Grady Smith.
"I think it helped to get Joe out of the pocket a little bit so he could see some things," said Singler. "I thought we had to throw the ball because they really stacked the box and took the run away from us. We didn't have many chances to really get clean line blocking up front so it was tough sledding running the ball."
"Joe just needs game experience," the coach said of his first-year starter. "It just doesn't happen, you've got to get out there and see things full speed. I thought he hung in there and he finished well, and that was important."
A botched snap over the punter's head led to a 3-yard scoring drive by the Panthers with 6:50 to play, with all of it gained on an inside handoff and sprint to the corner by Bowley for a 34-0 lead.
All told, South Medford ran for 159 yards on 32 carries and amassed a 338-22 advantage in total yards. Bowley led the ground attack with 57 yards on 16 carries, while Nick Phillips powered his way to 44 yards on nine carries. The Panthers got a big late-game boost from backup quarterback Mark Winans, who raced 43 yards on his first carry from the South 10-yard line and finished with 51 yards on three carries.
"We were kind of our own worst enemy on offense tonight; we really could've and should've scored more points," said Singler. "Every time we made a big play we either dropped the ball or else we had a penalty. But we hung in there and I think we wore them down as the game went on."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry