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SALEM — History wasn’t on South Medford’s side Friday night in the Class 6A football state quarterfinals.
Fortunately for the fifth-seeded Panthers, though, they had plenty of other factors to lean on during a cold and occasionally rainy clash at No. 4 seed West Salem.
Through a combination of heart, teamwork, talent and unflinching resolve, South Medford went out and made school history by taking control of the contest from the outset and never letting go for a 28-14 road triumph.
The victory marked the first time in four tries under head coach Bill Singler that the Panthers (11-1) were able to advance to the state semifinal round.
“It’s a breakthrough for the school,” said Singler, who took control of the program in 1998. “I’ve always felt to get to the quarters is a great accomplishment because if you’re in the top 8, you’re one of the top programs in the state. Those other schools that get to the semis every year, they do it because they have history on their side. We don’t have any history but today ... now we’ve got a little history.”
For their efforts, the Panthers earned a date next Friday against top-seeded Lake Oswego (11-1) in the second game of a doubleheader at Hillsboro Stadium. The Lakers routed Jesuit 48-17 on Friday and will play South Medford at 5 p.m., with the noon semifinal pitting sixth-seeded Tigard (10-2) against No. 2 Clackamas (12-0).
“Making history for South Medford is going to be something I’ll remember forever,” said Panthers senior Josiah Johnson, who also notched three interceptions in a game for the first time in his playing career. “It feels awesome, especially after that tough first-round loss last year. Making it this far is a great accomplishment.”
“But we’re never done,” added Johnson. “We’ve got to keep climbing that mountain. We’ve got a tough game next week and we’ve got to stay focused.”
There was no denying the level of focus for South Medford against West Salem (10-2). The Panthers marched 68 yards on their opening possession, using a 13-yard third-down conversion by Jaalen Owens and a 45-yard run by Jaylin Parnell to set the stage for a 5-yard scoring run by fellow senior Robbie Patterson.
That lead ballooned to 14-0 with 1:50 to go in the first quarter when Patterson hooked up with Owens for a second time on a 70-yard drive, the latter coming on a beautifully thrown 39-yard pass that was cradled in nicely by Owens for a touchdown.
“They left me over on the boundary so I knew I just had to beat them,” said Owens, who caught four passes for 81 yards. “It was pretty simple.”
That start meant the world to Owens and company, and put the run-heavy Titans on their heels.
“We came out blazing,” said Owens, who also had an interception on West Salem’s opening possession. “Our best quarters are our first and third quarters so we start very well and that’s all we tried to do tonight. We started well and we ended well.”
West Salem star running back Jacob Denning was able to counter with a 4-yard score about three minutes into the second quarter to make it 14-7, but each team bowed its back from there and that’s where the score remained at halftime after the Titans blocked a period-ending 28-yard field goal try by Owens.
South Medford limited West Salem to a pair of three-and-outs to start the third quarter. After a 12-yard punt put the Panthers in prime position at the Titans’ 38-yard line, South Medford added some much-needed cushion on a drive powered by Parnell’s running that resulted in a 6-yard scoring strike from Patterson to senior Chase Cota for a 21-7 lead with 3:27 to go in the third quarter.
“They just outplayed us, you’ve got to tip your hat to them,” said West Salem head coach Shawn Stanley. “They didn’t play a perfect game but they didn’t make mistakes and we made some major ones. And they wore us down. A couple times in the second half we go three-and-out and, shoot, that big running back (Parnell) he wears on you. That’s kind of been what they’ve done to a lot of teams. They played a great game and I wish them luck next week.”
Johnson’s second interception of the game opened the fourth quarter and gave South Medford another short field at the West Salem 20. On the next play, Parnell danced through the defense for a 20-yard score that made it 28-7 with 11:32 remaining.
Parnell finished with 127 yards rushing and one TD on 17 carries to pace a South Medford offense that totaled 210 yards on the ground and 411 overall.
“It was just heart,” Parnell said in how the Panthers were able to overcome the Titans. “We knew it was going to be a knock down, drag ‘em fight. Those guys definitely competed to the end.”
West Salem trimmed its deficit to 28-14 with a 3-yard TD run by Denning with 5:48 to play but Parnell recovered the onside kick and a combination of his running and that of Patterson, who finished with 63 yards on 13 carries, helped wind the clock down before giving the Titans the ball back at their own 24 with 1:41 to go.
Patterson also completed 18 of 28 passes for 201 yards and two TDs, with Cota hauling in five passes for 61 yards.
Two plays after West Salem took over, Johnson sealed the deal with his third interception to cap a terrific night that also included a handful of breakups on passes by senior quarterback Grant Thies, who completed 14 of 28 attempts for 162 yards and four picks.
“We have some kids that nobody knows about,” said Singler. “They get lost in the shuffle with Chase and Parnell and Robbie but Josiah’s one of those athletes who makes plays. If the ball’s in the air, he’s going to go get it.”
Overall, the Panthers limited West Salem to 278 yards of total offense. The Titans entered the game averaging 398 overall and 256 on the ground. Denning was limited to 75 yards on 22 carries.
“We haven’t faced that kind of speed and tackling ability all year,” said Stanley. “They’re the best team we played. Sometimes we get out on the perimeter and we break tackles but that just didn’t happen tonight.”
Of the defensive stand, Parnell said: “Really it was just effort more than anything. A lot of times I think that’s what separates good teams from great teams, and we have that from everybody.”
And now they have another week together, and potentially more history to make.
“It’s amazing, I love this game and I love all it’s done for me,” said Owens. “Just to go on to the semis right now is going to be so much more fun with my boys and the players that I love to play with. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a once-in-a-lifetime feeling.”
SOUTH MEDFORD 28, WEST SALEM 14
SM — Patterson 5 run (Owens kick)
SM — Owens 39 pass from Patterson (Owens kick)
WS — Denning 4 run (Chandler kick)
SM — Cota 6 pass from Patterson (Owens kick)
SM — Parnell 20 run (Owens kick)
WS — Denning 3 run (Chandler kick)
South Medford — Parnell 17-127, Patterson 13-63, Johnson 1-14, DeBoer 1-9, Snyder 1-(-3).
West Salem — Denning 22-75, Gould 6-23, Robertson 2-18, Thies 9-0.
South Medford — Patterson 18-28-0 201.
West Salem — Thies 14-28-4 162.
South Medford — Owens 4-81, Cota 5-61, Parnell 4-26, Johnson 3-25, DeBoer 2-8.
West Salem — Robertson 5-65, Pugh 3-60, Gould 5-26, McMurrin 1-11.
— Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry