However those surrounding the Lincoln football program may feel about presumably being slighted for their Portland Interscholastic League affiliation or a rocky start to the Cardinals’ season, none of those feelings reside inside the South Medford camp.
For the second-ranked Panthers (9-1), the No. 5 seed in the Class 6A state playoffs, Lincoln (8-2) may as well be the 10-time reigning state champions as they prep for Friday’s second-round matchup at Spiegelberg Stadium. Kickoff is 7 p.m.
“I definitely think this is one of the toughest teams we’ve ever faced because their offense is just so crazy and those kids, they’re fighters and they’re scrappers so they’re going to come at you,” said South Medford senior Jaylin Parnell.
With only four games remaining at best and 16 teams eager to be the last one standing on Dec. 2, now is not the time to be thinking anything else — especially for a South Medford program that doesn’t exactly carry a heralded playoff resume of its own. Last week, the Panthers snapped a four-year streak of first-round exits and the school has still never advanced beyond the quarterfinal round since it opened in 1986.
“We’re still climbing the mountain and we’re not close to the top yet,” said South Medford head coach Bill Singler, “so our entire focus is on Lincoln.”
“You’re in the final 16 right now and every team has our attention,” he added. “We’ve had some battles with Lincoln in the past so it’s not a team that we’re not unfamiliar with, it’s just that they’re doing things a little differently offensively. It’s another team that has our ultimate respect.”
South Medford last played Lincoln in 2010, when the Cardinals won 35-31 at home to open the state playoffs. The previous two years in regular-season play, however, the Panthers won both matchups.
The No. 12-seeded Cardinals opened the season with a pair of setbacks against the state’s top two teams in Lake Oswego and Clackamas by a combined 85-0 tally, but since the PIL season started they have found their groove and now won eight straight entering Friday’s contest. Utilizing a Wing-T offensive scheme rarely on display these days at the state’s highest level and a host of good-sized athletes, Lincoln is a sneakier threat than basic onlookers may consider.
“When you don’t see this stuff much, it’s hard to simulate,” said Singler. “If you defend a spread (offense) team, you see that more and it’s a lot easier to simulate because the kids know it. But here you’ve got to do a real good job in your prep work as a coach and you’ve got to get your scout teams all cranked up and in the right positions doing the right things. It’s going to be tough duty for us.”
Last week, Lincoln unleashed a ground attack that resulted in 242 rushing yards and six touchdowns by junior Nick Ostmo to turn back Lakeridge, 49-38. The Cardinals, who have won the last three PIL titles, scored on six straight second-half possessions to pull away after leading 7-3 at halftime in an opening 24 minutes that saw the teams combine for two completed passes.
Lincoln runs the ball on average 87 percent of the time, but focusing on Ostmo alone would be a mistake with senior Ethan Stahl and junior Daniel Kovalev also in play with senior quarterback Brad Emmens. The Cardinals bunch 10 players within 10 yards of each other near the line of scrimmage, leaving senior receiver Jordan Hill isolated on the outside edge, and attack with a host of weapons using a steady diet of misdirection and trying to get as many blockers in play as possible.
“They’re going to test you inside and they’re going to test you on the flanks with their sweeps and counters and that kind of thing and then they’ll run a little bootleg on you,” said Singler. “It’s a tough offense. They have some good kids running the football that are athletic, big and have a burst.”
To combat that attack, South Medford will look to lean on a defense that has limited opponents to 102 yards rushing per game and 246 yards in total offense. Parnell, seniors Trent Snyder and Evan Dallas and junior Cole Boster have led the charge from their linebacker positions but it will also be pivotal for defensive linemen like seniors Cole Schumack, Brandon Ditty and company to hold their ground.
“We just need to play fast and physical and have no regrets,” said Parnell. “You can’t be thinking during the play, you’ve just got to react.”
While Lincoln leans on its ground game, the same could be said for South Medford — just in a different way. Parnell has run for 1,077 yards and 19 TDs on 152 carries but has a capable reserve in junior Terrence Butler, who ran for four TDs last week and has 494 yards and 10 scores on the season.
With senior quarterback Robbie Patterson at the helm in his third season as starter, the Panthers also possess steady balance when necessary through the air. Patterson has completed 111 of 163 passes for 1,594 yards, 21 TDs and four interceptions, with a host of available targets led by seniors Chase Cota (33 catches, 626 yards, 11 TDs) and Jaalen Owens (23 catches, 410 yards, six TDs).
“That’s one thing that’s pleasing as a coach,” said Singler, “we’ve seen a lot of different kids contribute this year, whether it’s on offense, defense or special teams.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry