Depth is typically a concern for football teams, but it was a reason to rejoice for No. 4-ranked South Medford on Friday.
Minus almost its entire starting offensive line and with others having to also step up on the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers took control of their Southwest Conference opener from the get-go and cruised to a 56-7 win over Willamette at Spiegelberg Stadium.
Senior tailback Jaylin Parnell ran for two touchdowns, his backup Terrence Butler ran for two more TDs and third-stringer Mason DeVries even got in on the scoring action as South Medford amassed 272 yards rushing and 485 overall.
“I’m most proud honestly of our offensive line,” said Panthers head coach Bill Singler. “(Assistant coach) Damian Jackson did a great job with these guys this week. To have four starters out — four really key players on our offense — and have those backup offensive linemen come in there like that, they did a great job.”
Minus the likes of senior standouts Brandon Ditty (wrist), Michael Cormier (knee), Martin Laupola (foot) and Dylan Davis (ankle), the trenches were left wide open with slots to fill and the Panthers didn’t miss a beat with left tackle Bryson Lexow, left guard Fernando Alvarez, center Daniel Shenk, right guard Evan Dallas and right tackle Vohn Fraser.
“We had guys out so we knew we had to come out fiery and with a little bit of passion to pick up those guys and make them feel like we’re not letting them down,” said Parnell, who rushed seven times for 69 yards before taking the fourth quarter off. “I feel like we played with a lot of passion tonight.”
“And I can’t say enough about the job the line did with guys out,” he added. “They stepped up and played great.”
South Medford’s play in the trenches spilled over to the defensive side, where seniors Cole Schumack, Nate Eli and James Bishop helped set the tone with Fraser, Alvarez and Butler. Combined with linebackers Parnell, Dallas, Trent Snyder and Cole Boster, the Panthers were quick to the ball all night and kept Willamette from getting its big-play offense rolling.
“We wanted to capture the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and I think we really did that,” said Singler. “We went out and executed really well on offense and our defense overwhelmed them.”
The Panthers (2-1, 1-0 SWC) limited Willamette to 7 yards rushing and 47 passing in the first half as they took a 28-0 lead, and held the Wolverines to 29 yards rushing overall and 148 yards in total offense.
“The biggest thing was their team speed,” said Willamette head coach Josh Wolfram, “and Parnell is just a big, physical kid and he’s a tough mismatch for us. He played a great game off the edge.”
Senior receiver Jaalen Owens provided a highlight reel opening to the night with a one-handed catch on a 30-yard TD pass by Robbie Patterson, who later found Snyder for a 16-yard score on a play where the fullback simply refused to go down before reaching paydirt.
Junior receiver Trent DeBoer set up the next score with a 41-yard catch-and-run, giving way to Parnell for the score on an ensuing 14-yard burst through the middle. After an interception by Peyton Shipley, Parnell again found the end zone with a 45-yard scamper to make it 28-0.
“In the second quarter when they hit their quick ones, that just kind of got our kids a little frustrated,” said Wolfram.
Chase Cota added an interception in the first half. The senior standout also had 37 yards rushing and caught four passes for 58 yards.
Willamette looked to gain some momentum to open the second half when Bryce Goggin undercut a deep pass by Patterson meant for Josiah Johnson and came up with an interception. Patterson finished 11-for-15 for 213 yards, two TDs and one interception.
The Wolverines (1-2, 0-1) marched to the South Medford 2-yard line before repeatedly getting turned back on tackles for loss by Parnell and Lexow. On fourth-and-goal from the 13, Goggin was able to post up in the short corner for a TD strike from Taylor Bridge-Eiler, who finished 14-for-28 for 119 yards.
Any positive thoughts of a comeback went out the door moments later, however, as sophomore Austin Boster returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for his first varsity touchdown to restore order.
Butler added scoring runs of 56 yards and 4 yards before DeVries put the final stamp on the win with his 11-yard TD run with about 3 minutes to go. Butler ran eight times for a game-high 117 yards.
“It’s really exciting to see young guys step up like that and know that they can come in at any time and be just as good,” said Parnell. “That’s really inspiring.”
The only real blemish on the night came in the first quarter, when senior playmaker Kaleb Franklin took a handoff and dipped through the defense as usual before coming up lame on the play and falling to the ground with a non-contact injury. Franklin did not return and was on crutches for the final three quarters.
“That’s going to hurt because he’s a fine player on both sides of the ball, he’s so dynamic,” said Singler. “We’re hoping for the best that it’s not an ACL and maybe it’s something different. It didn’t swell up, which is good, so we’ll get an MRI on it Monday and hopefully that will be better news than maybe he thinks and we think.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry