• PREP FOOTBALL

    Southwest Conference schedule offers nuances

    Key home dates for Crater provide optimism; South Medford again gets eyeful of Axemen
  • Few will be more pleased to see South Eugene pull off a competitive 2013 football campaign than South Medford head coach Bill Singler.
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  • Few will be more pleased to see South Eugene pull off a competitive 2013 football campaign than South Medford head coach Bill Singler.
    As a peculiarity to the Southwest Conference schedule, Singler's Panthers were routinely the next team up for 2012 opponents in the week after those squads faced the Axemen.
    What that meant last season were well-rested teams with a burst of confidence heading into their tilts with South Medford, and limited game film tips because many of those SWC contests proved lopsided for South Eugene — which has won only two games, including one by forfeit, in the past three years.
    "It seems like when we trade films, we're always watching South Eugene," Singler said with a laugh. "It is what it is, and it didn't seem to tremendously affect us."
    "Would it be better for us to watch Sheldon all year, sure, but we're not getting that opportunity," he added. "It's just the way it's set up, some years have worked better than others. Our schedule this year is fine."
    The recent release of the 2013 football schedules, which will be in the final year of the current configuration, offered a reminder of how blind two-year draws can affect a season even before it gets going due to the inherent nuances.
    For some like South Medford, that may mean taking a different approach to game-planning this time around when teams hand over their previous two game films.
    For Roseburg, it will mean two trips to Medford's Spiegelberg Stadium, where the Indians have generally played well under head coach Thurman Bell.
    For others like Crater, it can flip the script from constant uphill battles on the road to hosting those foes in more friendly confines during a typically nip-and-tuck conference slate.
    "It's a lot better for me than for Bill," Beck said with a chuckle when discussing the upcoming schedule. "I hadn't really looked at it like that for him but I'm going to have to give him a hard time about that the next time I see him."
    For the record, after the first week of the SWC schedule, Thurston routinely plays a team that faced Crater the week before, while North Medford follows one week behind Grants Pass' schedule. Roseburg will get a long look at South Medford during its game film exchange this season with it essentially trailing the Panthers' schedule by one week.
    "It's a draw and that's just how it works out, I don't have a problem with it," added Singler, whose Panthers will travel to Eugene in back-to-back Fridays in September but plays its other five SWC games in the Rogue Valley. "I know it's hard putting schedules together with all kinds of factors that you have to consider. In the end you've just got to go play the games no matter what."
    The first official practice for the fall season, as mandated by the Oregon School Activities Association, is Aug. 19. Opening games for teams throughout the Rogue Valley will be played on Aug. 30, with the regular season running through Oct. 25 at the Class 6A, 5A and 4A ranks.
    Local teams are currently in training for their fall camps, with daily weight-lifting sessions and seven-on-seven contests through July on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Spiegelberg and Dutch Meyer Field to keep them sharp.
    Few teams should benefit from the second year of the current SWC schedule more than Crater, which finished fourth last year in its best showing since rejoining the 6A ranks. The Comets open with a pair of quality opponents again in Tualatin and Oregon City, but this year will be able to play at home against the likes of Grants Pass, Sheldon, Thurston and South Medford.
    "If we can hang in there, it could be better, but it's just a real meat grinder in the SWC," said Beck. "But being at home for some of the key games is big."
    "The schedule definitely is a lot better playing those four teams at home than playing them on the road like we did last year," he added. "That's really hard. It just seemed like every time you turned around you're traveling to somebody really good. It was a real challenge."
    For North Medford, conference momentum may be tough to build when it opens SWC play on the road at Grants Pass on Sept. 13 and then plays host to defending 6A state champion Sheldon on the following week. The Black Tornado also faces road challenges at Thurston and will be the designated visitor for the 28th annual Black and Blue Game against South Medford on Oct. 18.
    "It's going to be a very competitive league again this year," said Singler. "It looks like teams like North and Grants Pass are certainly looking to be improved over last year and when you always have to contend with the best team in the state like we do in Sheldon, it's a challenge."
    As for South Eugene, which was outscored by an average of 46-15 in each game a year ago, the Axemen have again turned the reins over to former NFL standout Chris Miller, who led the program to some of its best years during his first run from 2002-06.
    "Chris will get it going again with them," said Beck in a sentiment echoed by Singler. "With him and a bunch of his guys back, they'll get it going, it's just going to take a year or two or three."
    Miller led the Axemen to a 31-21 record in his first stint and to the state playoffs in each of his final four seasons, including a quarterfinal appearance in his last year. The Axemen hadn't advanced to the state playoffs in eight seasons prior to his arrival. Miller left South Eugene to become executive director at Kidsports and then spent three seasons as the quarterbacks coach for the Arizona Cardinals (2009-11).
    "Things will change there again and I know Chris Miller will do a very good job," said Singler. "He made them competitive the first time around and I'm sure he's gotten them better already."
    As for the Comets, they took a hit when two-way starter Blake Fahndrich suffered a torn labrum while playing baseball this summer. Beck said the running back/linebacker underwent surgery on Thursday but is expected to miss the football season as he goes through an expected four-month rehabilitation.
    "It's kind of a sad deal, he's just a great kid and leader and now we're going to be without him," said Beck.
    Crater has unveiled a fast-paced offense this summer with wristbands for quick communication that expects to take full advantage of the strong arm of returning quarterback Ty Fox and a host of veteran skill players.
    "We're not real fancy with it, it's something like Oregon runs, but we're going to throw it a little bit and go as fast as humanly possible," said Beck.
    Due to proposed reclassification, this could be the last run for the Comets at the 6A football level. If the OSAA's most recent plan goes in effect, Crater will return to 5A with Ashland and Eagle Point in the 2014-18 time block. Taking its place in the SWC will be Willamette.
    Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry
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