For all the exuberance felt by those in the South Medford football program following last week’s historic win in the Class 6A state quarterfinals, the fifth-seeded Panthers have moved on.
A continued focus on climbing the mountain, as has been the team’s motto in this breakthrough campaign, has kept South Medford (11-1) focused on the next task at hand, and that’s finding a way to extend its season to one more final week with a win Friday over No. 1 Lake Oswego in the state semifinals at Hillsboro Stadium. Kickoff is 5 p.m.
“It’s very exciting just to reach this point as a team,” said South Medford senior Trent Snyder, “but we still have to finish the season strong.”
That sentiment has echoed throughout the Panther camp this week as they prep for the Lakers (11-1), who have South Medford’s full attention with their loaded lineup and proven coaching lead by head coach Steve Coury.
It’s a game that certainly won’t be easy, according to senior Jaylin Parnell, but definitely isn’t one the Panthers are afraid to be in.
“We’re in this for the long haul,” said Parnell, who is the two-time reigning offensive and defensive player in the Southwest Conference. “We’re not afraid of anybody and we believe that, if anything, people should fear us because we’ve played with everybody.”
“They have straight athletes everywhere,” added Parnell of the Lakers. “Those guys are super-good, but I feel like we match up with them well. We’re really excited about this matchup.”
The same feeling is shared up north, where Lake Oswego (11-1) navigated its way through the state’s toughest conference to a share of the Three Rivers League title with sixth-seeded Tigard (10-2), which plays No. 2 Clackamas (12-0) in Friday’s other semifinal.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Coury said of the semifinal tilt. “They’ve had a great year, obviously, and it’s going to be a fun atmosphere and a fun game.”
“Our kids know it’s a huge challenge coming up and they’re looking forward to it,” he added. “When you play as good of talent as they have at South, it’s a good challenge for our kids.”
While South Medford will be seeking its first-ever trip to the championship final — and first large-school appearance for a Medford school since 2003 — Lake Oswego last reached the finals in 2012 after winning its lone state crown in 2011. Overall, the Lakers have gone 5-6 in the semifinal round.
“We know we have our hands full and they’re playing real well,” said Panthers head coach Bill Singler, “but, you know what, so are we. I think it’s a good matchup, our kids feel good about it.”
Both coaches spoke about the mirror-image qualities of their teams, from talented playmakers throughout the skill positions to similar defensive styles and tenured, well-respected coaching staffs.
“If you look at us scheme-wise,” said Singler, “we’re kind of the same so our scout teams ought to be giving us good looks this week.”
Lake Oswego senior quarterback Jake Dukart, who has committed to play football and baseball at Oregon State, guides a prolific offense that is remarkably balanced, averaging 234 yards rushing per game and 241 yards passing for 475 overall. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound standout, who is also a star shortstop for the Lakers, has completed 165 of 292 passes for 2,818 yards, 29 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has also run for 111 yards and seven scores.
“In the previous three years he might have played 10 games,” Coury said of the injury-prone QB. “This year the key was keeping him healthy and getting him experience. Against tough competition week-in and week-out, he’s risen his game each week and is playing at his peak now.”
Helping the Lakers show balance is a deep rushing attack that has seen senior Alex Bassett run 99 times for 937 yards and 14 TDs to lead the charge. Junior Collin Bracken (84 carries, 778 yards, 13 TDs) and sophomore Casey Filkins (119 carries, 752 yards, 10 TDs) join Bassett and Dukart in pacing the ground attack.
Through the air, senior Jordan Newlin has been LO’s top target with 47 catches for 928 yards and 15 scores but Filkins (39 catches, 509 yards, three TDs) and senior Kameron Harvey (21 catches, 364 yards, seven TDs) are equally potent weapons for Dukart.
Lake Oswego trailed Jesuit 17-14 with 4½ minutes to go in the first half last week before going on a 34-0 run to clinch its semifinal berth with a 48-17 win. The Lakers forced six turnovers in the second half against Jesuit and boast a defense led by junior linebacker Bryson Breeze and senior linebacker Sam Haney that is allowing only 185 yards rushing and 135 passing (320 total).
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Breeze is a cousin of South Medford senior Chase Cota and was named the TRL’s defensive player of the year. Also like Cota, Lake Oswego senior lineman Dawson Jaramillo (6-5, 310) is one of the state’s top recruits.
“We’re playing the best football we’ve played all year as of the 10th game and beyond,” said Coury, “and as a coach that’s always goal. I think the four teams that are left could all say the same thing.”
South Medford’s offensive versatility expects to pose a similar challenge as the Lakers, with three-year starting quarterback Robbie Patterson completing 69 percent of his passes for 1,928 yards, 24 TDs and four interceptions. Patterson has shown his own ability as a runner, totaling 265 yards and three scores with a handful of clutch runs that have helped keep drives going.
Parnell’s ability as a dual-threat tailback, with 1,311 yards and 22 TDs on the ground and 304 yards and three TDs through the air, make the 6-foot, 200-pounder a chore to contend with but South Medford has proven its ability to attack in numerous other ways.
Cota leads the Panthers with 42 catches for 719 yards and 13 TDs but it was fellow senior Jaalen Owens who had most of the key receptions for South Medford last week against West Salem to boost his totals to 524 yards and seven scores on 28 receptions. Senior Josiah Johnson, who intercepted three passes and forms a solid cornerback tandem with Owens, has also come on strong in relief of injured senior Kaleb Franklin — lost to a torn ACL early in Week 3 — to post 16 catches for 176 yards.
“We’ve got to try to make them go the distance rather than go in big chunks on offense,” said Coury. “Each of us is going to have our hands full from trying to stop the offenses from making big plays.”
Defensively, South Medford is allowing an average of 121 yards on the ground and 134 through the air for a 255 total behind the steady play of linebackers Parnell, Trent Snyder, Evan Dallas and Cole Boster to go with linemen Brandon Ditty, Michael Cormier, Nate Eli and Cole Schumack.
“They are bigger than us up front on both sides of the ball,” said Singler, “but that’s been that way all year against us. But our guys have a lot of fight.”
That level of heart and strong-willed play has carried the Panthers all season, and it’s their hope that will again help provide the difference on Friday.
“When you really put forth effort in life, you usually get some kind of reward,” said Singler, “and I think you’re seeing the fruits of their labor right now.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry