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...
If a pick-me-up was warranted for a South Medford football team that has battled through an injury-riddled campaign thus far, the Panthers need only look back to one year ago.
In 2012, South Medford stood 1-2 in the Southwest Conference and in need of a shot in the arm. The Panthers' next opponent, Roseburg, wouldn't have been a likely choice to get things turned around against, but that's exactly what transpired.
South Medford erased a 14-0 deficit in that game and went on to win 23-22 at Roseburg in a rousing effort that sparked the team to an undefeated run through the rest of the regular season.
Flash forward to Friday night at Spiegelberg Stadium and the Panthers (1-4, 1-2 SWC) find themselves in exactly the same spot when the sixth-ranked Indians (5-0, 3-0) come to town.
"We need something good to happen to us," said South Medford head coach Bill Singler. "We're playing at home and hopefully that's an uplifting thing. Obviously we have another chance to get back on track and hopefully we'll be ready to take the task on Friday."
In Friday's other SWC games, ninth-ranked North Medford plays at Thurston, Crater is host to No. 7 Sheldon and Grants Pass is at South Eugene.
At the 5A level on Friday, third-ranked Ashland seeks to maintain its unbeaten record on the road against North Eugene and Eagle Point plays at No. 5 Marist.
In key 4A action, Phoenix will play host to Mazama, while 3A Cascade Christian had a monkey wrench put in its plans when Rogue River decided to forfeit this week's game due to a lack of players available.
South Medford's matchup with Roseburg offers up a unique twist on a rivalry that has seen the teams split the past 12 outings, with the road team getting the honors more often than not. In fact, the road team has won the last four meetings and 10 of the last 12 — with Roseburg winning at home one year after South won at Spiegelberg in 2008.
"We've had some great games with Roseburg where, outside of the (2011 playoff game), almost all of them have gone down to the wire," said Singler. "It's been a lot of fun playing against Roseburg. We know what we're going to get against them and, really, they know what they're going to get against us. It's just a matter of who executes the best that night."
While it may make for the worst pregame speech ever, the Panthers have actually fared better in recent years when Roseburg has jumped ahead by double digits in the early going. Whether it was 14 points last year, 17 in the first meeting of 2011 or down 21 in 2007, South Medford has had a knack of rallying to victory against the Indians.
"That's been kind of crazy but we need to play well early this year," Singler said. "Our team is not mentally to a point to where if we get down, I don't know if we've got the substance to come back, and Roseburg knows that, that's not a secret."
The numbers show an advantage to Roseburg on every turn, but that's also with a depleted Panther roster over the first five weeks. While South Medford still is far from full health, it expects to welcome back tailback Christian Bowley on Friday, with defensive end Tristian Lallo a gametime decision. Both seniors have been out since the first half of the season opener.
"Bowley's getting reps and he looks quicker," said Singler. "Getting him back will help with our big-play ability, and Lallo has been cleared to play, it will just depend on if he looks OK on Friday."
Bowley's return is made that much more important by injuries sustained in last week's 49-14 loss at Sheldon. Running backs Josh Hall and Anthony Gomez rank fifth and sixth, respectively, in SWC rushing but their status is questionable for the homecoming game. Hall (68 carries for 413 yards) sprained an ankle against the Irish and Gomez (30 carries for 377 yards and five TDs) took a helmet to the back midway through the fourth quarter.
On the perimeter, Mark Winans and Josh Baugh have enjoyed big moments thus far for South Medford and they'll need to be on top of their game on Friday against a veteran Roseburg secondary. Winans has turned six of his nine catches into touchdowns, averaging 30 yards per reception, to lead the Panthers while Baugh has stepped up to catch 16 passes for 235 yards and one TD.
Consistency still seems to be the issue for the Panthers, who have been plagued by taking one step forward and then two steps back during key stretches this season.
"We've had more dropped balls this year in half a season than we've had in a lot of seasons combined," said Singler. "We've already had 10 or 12 dropped balls and we very rarely get four dropped balls for a season. We've always taken pride in that and that's been a real Achilles' heel for us because it's a drive stopper. Penalties and dropped balls are drive-stoppers, and that's why we've punted the ball more this year than we ever have."
In this era of spread-option offensive attacks where the ball is thrown all over the field, Roseburg remains constant under 43rd-year head coach Thurman Bell in its ground-based approach.
Tailback Levi Holden leads the SWC with 722 yards and eight TDs on 125 carries but is complemented nicely by River Sigrest (44 carries for 238 yards and seven TDs) as each roam behind a veteran offensive line. Quarterback Cody Walker captains the veer option scheme and has run for 189 yards and completed 25 of 46 passes for 476 yards.
"They're just going to line up and play smashmouth football," said Singler. "That's Thurman's style and it's a system that's worked and evolved through the years. In the cycle of football, Thurman remains constant and for good reason, he gets results."
NORTH MEDFORD AT THURSTON — North Medford is making its first appearance in a top-10 poll since 2004, which was a year after the Black Tornado's runner-up finish in the state playoffs.
North Medford (4-1, 3-0 SWC) will look to build on the momentum gained from four straight wins — including an upset of Sheldon — and inch closer to its first winning season since 2005 with a win in Springfield.
Black Tornado quarterback Troy Fowler put on an epic display last week against Crater, passing for 473 yards and six touchdowns to nearly double his season total entering the game. Fowler also ran for a TD and has now completed 81 of 136 of his passes for 1,289 yards, 13 TDs and four interceptions.
Key to Fowler's success has been a deep and potent receiving corps that received a breakout effort last week from Eugene Ellis and is lead by Jared Evans (23 catches for 334 yards) and Tristen Holmes (11 for 276).
North Medford's offense and defense rank second only to Sheldon at about 412 and 345 yards per game, respectively.
Nick Janakes continues to be a focal figure, scoring on a run, a pass reception and an interception during last week's 61-45 win over Crater. Janakes ranks second in SWC rushing with 538 yards and seven TDs on 106 carries.
Thurston (1-4, 1-2) was hit hard by knee injuries suffered two weeks ago against Roseburg by two of its top playmakers, tailback Roy Jackson and receiver Carson Cook. Both sat out last week's game against Grants Pass and their status is unknown for Friday's meeting. Despite the missed time, Jackson still stands fourth in SWC rushing and Cook third in SWC receiving.
Colts quarterback Brendin Quinn will look to pick apart a Tornado secondary that allowed 519 yards passing one week ago. Quinn has completed 100 of 157 passes for 1,235 yards, eight TDs and six interceptions.
SHELDON AT CRATER — Quarterback Ty Fox is coming off a career performance against North Medford that saw the Crater senior complete 26 of 45 passes for 519 yards and four scores in the shootout. He also ran for 59 yards and a score.
The Comets (0-5, 0-3) will need every bit of Fox's athleticism and big-play ability against a Sheldon team that was awakened by the loss to the Tornado and appeared on a mission last week. Helping make it possible last week were a host of skill players for Fox to call upon, led by Dallin George, Matt Dent, Carlos Higuera, Kory Bennett and Dylan Morgan.
Bennett, with 25 catches for 425 yards, is just ahead of George (30 for 424) atop the SWC rankings while Higuera provides a nice option with Davey McCollum as ballcarriers who are also receiving threats out of the backfield.
Sheldon (3-2, 2-1) is spearheaded by quarterback Joseph Kuehn, who has completed 97 of 136 passes for 1,349 yards, 10 TDs and four interceptions, but tailback Yadie Dunmore is the Irish's top weapon.
Dunmore, who missed the final 21/2 quarters against North, was electric in the Irish's win over South Medford with three touchdowns. He is complemented nicely by matchup nightmare Mitchell Herbert (401 yards receiving and 155 rushing) and Kellen Strahm (22 catches for 406 yards and five TDs).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry