Sure it was cold in Salem last Friday night, but South Medford head coach Bill Singler had no problem staying warm in the aftermath of his football team’s 28-14 victory over West Salem in the Class 6A state quarterfinals.
Receiving hug after hug, handshake after handshake and with several well-deserved pats on the back, Singler may have been the most impervious to the cold of anyone standing on the Titans’ black turf.
And it was clear that he wanted to share the love of so many who came to the game in support of his Panthers (11-1) as they made school history by earning their first bid to the state semifinals with the runaway win.
“It’s really neat for our fan base,” Singler said Friday night while staring out over a mass of nearby supporters. “The people that follow us and have followed South Medford sports — not just football but basketball, baseball, whatever it is — it’s just great to win for them. Not just us but for them because it keeps the belief going and the excitement and the enthusiasm going for the school and for the community to see a Medford team in the semifinals. This was just a great total victory for the school.”
Few have bled more blue over the years than Singler himself, who returned to his hometown in 1998 to assume control of the South Medford program and had to endure some early lean seasons before turning the Panthers into a conference leader and state title contender.
Along the way, South Medford has won three Southwest Conference titles since the league formed in 2006 — including the last two — and routinely has former players returning to games and practices to pay respects befitting the family atmosphere that has been fostered throughout the program. A considerable nod for that tight bond goes to Leah Singler, wife of the head coach and tireless champion of all things Panthers.
Now in his 20th season, Bill Singler has amassed a 125-83 record at South Medford entering Friday’s 5 p.m. game against Lake Oswego (11-1) at Hillsboro High. He previously led the Panthers to three other quarterfinal appearances in seasons that ended there — South has now advanced to the state playoffs in 15 of the last 16 seasons — and was clearly proud of his players and fellow coaches for being able to reward the support the team has been given over the years.
“They all wanted us to win so bad,” said Singler, “so it’s really pleasing we could break through. But it gets harder and harder now every time we win.”
TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE: There were numerous big plays pulled off by the Panthers to knock off West Salem, but one play that didn’t materialize — even though it likely should have — could have made things even easier for South Medford to gain the quarterfinal victory.
With the Panthers nursing a 14-7 second-quarter lead after holding the Titans on fourth down following big plays by seniors Josiah Johnson and Jaylin Parnell, they took over at their own 34-yard line with just under four minutes remaining until halftime.
After a pair of runs by senior quarterback Robbie Patterson, he then was forced to scramble on third-and-7. Looking downfield after creating some space, Patterson dialed up a deep pass to senior receiver Chase Cota, who went high up in traffic to make an awkward catch at the West Salem 38-yard line and then acrobatically found a way to stay on balance with his right arm extending to the turf as he kept his knees from touching with the ball in his left arm.
Cota then spun and raced into the end zone for what appeared to be a 63-yard touchdown reception before it was ultimately ruled that Cota was down on the play at the 38. The Panthers’ sideline was obviously disappointed in the call, but given the wild nature of what transpired in that split-second, it was also easy to see how hard it would be to trust that there was no way no other part of Cota’s body beyond his right hand had come in contact with the field.
FAMILY AFFAIR: Speaking of Cota, who Oregon Ducks fans hope will decide to join his cousin Brady Breeze at their college next fall, the heralded 6-foot-4, 200-pound recruit will have to contend with another cousin on Friday in Lake Oswego junior inside linebacker Bryson Breeze (5-11, 185).
All the cousins enjoyed a close-knit relationship while growing up in the Medford football system and carry that through today. The Breeze family moved to Lake Oswego in 2014, prior to what would have been Brady’s junior campaign at South Medford after he had received a scholarship offer from Oregon.
Brady Breeze went on to star at Central Catholic in his final two seasons and, after a redshirt year, has been a key cog in the Ducks’ defensive backfield and special teams rotation this year.
Bryson Breeze is the third oldest of four boys in the family after Bo and Brady — with Brock and sister Brenna also in the mix — and was a first-team all-conference selection this season and the Three Rivers League’s defensive player of the year.
5A ROOTING INTEREST: With Crater, Ashland and Eagle Point no longer in contention, Medford football fans can still take a rooting interest into Saturday’s Class 5A state championship game thanks to the presence of David Faaeteete.
After starring at North Medford High before graduating in 2004 and moving on to play at Oregon, Faaeteete served as an assistant coach at Hermiston High before taking over the program as head coach in 2015.
In his team’s final run with the Oregon School Activities Association before joining a Washington affiliation, Faaeteete has guided the 10-2 Bulldogs into Saturday’s state final against Midwestern League champion Churchill (12-0) at 6 p.m. at Hillsboro Stadium.
Faaeteete was the state’s defensive player of the year and had 100 tackles, including 10½ quarterback sacks, during his senior season at North Medford in 2003.
He took over as head coach at Hermiston after Mark Hodges, a former Black Tornado assistant coach, resigned for health reasons after leading the Bulldogs to the 5A title in 2014. Faaeteete was defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for seven seasons before receiving the promotion.
— Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry