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Two weeks into the high school football season and South Medford head coach Bill Singler has seen enough breaks — just not on the field.
After the Panthers lost two-way starters Tristian Lallo and Kyle Eli and standout tailback Christian Bowley to Week 1 injuries, their bad luck continued last Friday at Westview when sophomore playmaker Brady Breeze sustained a broken hand.
For those keeping count, that's three key players on both sides of the ball and another expected to shoulder the offensive load in his senior season. And that's not including all the usual bumps and bruises gained throughout the roster in the early season.
"We've been fortunate through the years and I can't recall a year like this," said Singler. "Teams usually go through one or two injury situations and maybe you're gonna get them back soon but in two games we've had four key injuries that are going to keep kids out multiple games."
"I really applaud our team, though, and how kids have come in and stepped up and kept us competitive," he added. "We've had our chances to win and come up a little short but it's not because of a lack of effort."
Thus far, the Panthers (0-2) have had the misfortune of a pair of comeback efforts that have kept them out of the win column. West Salem, ranked No. 6 in the OregonLive.com Class 6A poll, used a fourth-quarter rally to edge South Medford 19-14 in the opener, then Westview scored with 20 seconds to play to stun the Panthers 28-24 last Friday.
"We're just catching a rough spot here but we've just got to keep fighting through it," said Singler. "We're not dwelling on it, we're just using it as a learning experience and for every man's misfortune is another man's opportunity. We're looking at this as an opportunity to get some of our guys experience for later on."
Other than the injury bug, if any opponent knows how the Panthers are feeling these days it's Friday's opponent Thurston. The Colts (0-2) lost 37-34 in their opener to Aloha and held the lead on West Salem before the Titans used a 21-point fourth-quarter rally to win 42-41.
Given that scenario as Southwest Conference play officially begins Friday, Singler said there's bound to be a lot of energy on display at Spiegelberg Stadium between the Panthers and Colts.
"Both teams are going to be pretty salty," he said. "Both programs aren't used to losing, but it's not that both teams have played bad teams. We've both played tough opponents and sometimes that's just how it goes. These are two teams that just want to find a way to win and get in the win column to get something going."
In Friday's other SWC openers, North Medford is at Grants Pass, Crater plays at No. 8 Roseburg and third-ranked Sheldon is host to South Eugene.
In local 5A action, No. 9 Ashland plays host to No. 6 Marist and Eagle Point is at home against Churchill.
Junior tailback Josh Hall provided a nice spark to the offense with 103 yards on 23 carries last week and showed good hands out of the backfield for a Panthers team that's averaging only 266 yards per game thus far. He'll be asked to help shoulder the load even more until Bowley is able to return from a high ankle sprain in the next couple weeks.
"He had a fantastic game," Singler said of Hall. "Josh is a good little running back and we could see that last year in JV situations. He just runs with tremendous explosion and runs low to the ground with great balance and he keeps churning and making yards after contact. It's a credit to him for being ready for his opportunity."
Junior quarterback Craig Contreras settled in better in Beaverton as well, connecting with senior Mark Winans on an 88-yard score and Breeze on a 37-yarder. Contreras has completed 25 of 55 passes for 392 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.
Stepping in for Breeze, who broke his hand in the fourth quarter while making a tackle at safety, will be another shifty playmaker in C.J. Daniels, who has three catches for 43 yards, and Josh Baugh, who has 1 yard less in the same amount of receptions.
Defensively, the Panthers will have their hands full with a Thurston offense that's churning out almost 423 yards and 38 points per game behind the play of quarterback Brendin Quinn and tailback Roy Jackson. Quinn has completed 47 of 67 passes for 542 yards with four TDs and two interceptions, while Jackson has carried the ball 29 times for 231 yards for five scores and is a receiving threat out of the backfield.
Carson Cook is Thurston's leading receiver with 13 catches for three TDs and 217 yards — second only to Crater's Kory Bennett in the SWC — but Johnny Contreras and Colton Fish each have double-digit receptions.
"I like Jackson a lot, he's the real deal and he's a kid who can run inside and outside and catch the screens," said Singler. "And when their quarterback has time, he looks to be very effective and they're going to run a lot of different pattern structures at you so you've got to be on your toes when they spread the field. They present a lot of problems."
NORTH MEDFORD AT GRANTS PASS — North Medford will look to snap its two-game losing streak against Grants Pass in an intriguing matchup of two teams on the rise in the SWC.
The Black Tornado and Cavemen each enter with 1-1 records overall, although neither is as consistent with their play as they would like and the opener could act as a nice springboard into the league slate.
Last year, Nick Janakes opened the scoring with a touchdown run to give North Medford a 7-0 lead, only to have Grants Pass roll off the next 45 points en route to the Week 3 victory. The three prior meetings were decided by seven points or less, with the Tornado last claiming the advantage in 2010.
The Black Tornado unleashed a potent running attack last week, with Janakes spearheading the effort with a career-best 203 yards that often were the benefit of good seal blocking by tight end Andrew Todd. Janakes leads the SWC with 293 yards on 39 carries for an average of 7.5 yards per carry.
Will Spence also provided a solid complement with his 77 rushing yards, and North will look to keep the momentum going against a GP defense that is stout up front with standout linemen Drake Brennan (6-8, 232), Ethan Straw (6-3, 214), Travis Gergel (6-3, 233) and Jordan Thatcher (5-10, 200).
North Medford junior quarterback Troy Fowler has completed 25 of 45 passes for 293 yards with four TDs and two interceptions, but those numbers could be even better were it not for a handful of tosses just out of reach of steady receivers Jared Evans, Eugene Ellis and Tristen Holmes.
Grants Pass utilizes quarterbacks Javan Appling and Ben Glaeser to keep defenses on their toes, with Zach Hannan sporting a breakout game in last week's win over West Linn and up to 213 yards on 15 carries. On the perimeter, J.C. McKinley leads the Cavemen with 156 yards receiving on 14 catches.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry