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Panthers eager to take next step

There's nothing like a convincing win to cure what ails a football team.

South Medford's 38-0 romp over Klamath Union last Friday not only snapped a three-game losing streak and evened the Panthers? record at 3-3, it also kept alive the team's two main goals this season: (1) obtaining a winning season and (2) securing a state playoff berth.

It also gave the Panthers a much-needed confidence boost heading into Friday night's game against No. 10-ranked Roseburg at Spiegelberg Stadium.

In other games involving SOC teams, North Medford (5-1) visits Klamath Union (1-5), Crater (0-6) journeys to Ashland (5-1), Eagle Point (1-5) ventures to Churchill (5-1) and Grants Pass (4-2) visits Bend (5-1).

Considering where we were at this time last year and the league we play in, 3-3 isn't too bad, South Medford coach Bill Singler says. We were at a crossroads going into the Klamath game last week, and I was proud of the way we responded.

More than likely, the Panthers? playoff status will be determined on Nov. — when they meet Grants Pass in their regular-season final. But a win over Roseburg would be the school's biggest since Singler took over the program three years ago.

The next step for us is to take on a top-10 team like Roseburg and have a shot to win the game in the fourth quarter, Singler says. We haven't reached that point yet, but I know we're capable of it.

The Indians (5-2, 4-1 SOC) haven't played particularly well since a 27-7 victory over Grants Pass three weeks ago. Most of their problems can be traced to injuries that have decimated their offensive line and played havoc with their running game.

Roseburg has also struggled to find consistency at quarterback, where Adam Hazel and Scott Bone have shared the position. Hazel, a junior transfer from LaSalle High near Portland, has passed for 509 yards and four touchdowns but isn't nearly as adept as Bone at running Bell's veer option offense.

Starting tailback Conway Bixby has also been on the sidelines for much of the season. He missed the better part of three games with a severe ankle sprain and then suffered a mild concussion in the Indians? 20-6 victory over Eagle Point last week.

Junior Rod Cope has filled in admirably; he's the No. — rusher in the SOC with 537 yards and eight touchdowns and will likely get the start Friday.

We've been sputtering on offense, no question about it, says Bell, whose team suffered a rare shutout against North

Medford two weeks ago. Not to make excuses, but it seems like every week we get somebody else banged up in the offensive line.

One of the few that has remained healthy is tight end Joe Newton, a 6-foot-6, 225-pound junior who is considered a major college recruit. Newton, who might also be the Indians? best defensive player — he lines up at end — is tied for fourth in the SOC in receiving with 15 catches for 214 yards and two touchdowns.

South Medford, meanwhile, is coming off a fine performance on both sides of the ball. The Panthers not only reached their highest point total of the season against Klamath Union, they also registered their first shutout in 24 games under Singler.

Our defensive line played great, Singler says.

Singler was most pleased with Caleb Burns, a junior defensive end who registered three sacks and harassed Klamath Union quarterback Jason Mortenson throughout.

The 5-11, 180-pound Burns started the season at center but was moved to defense two games ago to give the Panthers added quickness and toughness on the defensive front.

He's been tough for other teams to block, Singler says. He comes off the edge very quickly.

Offensively, Singler is pleased with South Medford's super sophomores — quarterback Boomer Marshall and wide receiver Ryan Benson. Marshall completed 14 of 21 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown against Klamath, with Benson catching seven of them for 106 yards.

On the season, Marshall has completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,030 yards, eight TDs and four interceptions and is second in the SOC quarterback rankings.

Any time you have a 2-to-1 ratio in touchdowns to interceptions, that's excellent, Singler says. Boomer took his lumps when we were going through our losing streak but he never complained one bit. You couldn't ask any more out of a sophomore.

NORTH MEDFORD AT KLAMATH UNION ?

North Medford coach Rod Rumrey is trying to impress upon his players that Klamath Union isn't a bad football team, and he's got the video to prove it.

Rumrey showed his players the video of a Sept. 22 game between the Pelicans and Roseburg that saw the Indians clinging to a 13-8 lead at the half.

That film has got our players? attention, Rumrey says.

Nothing has gone right for Klamath Union since then, however. The Pels have suffered 56-8 and 38-0 losses the last two weeks to North Bend and South Medford, and quarterback Jason Mortenson has been hobbling with a shoulder injury.

Still, Rumrey is impressed with several Klamath players, particularly 6-2, 220-pound middle linebacker Isaac Najar.

He's a big, physical kid who can run, Rumrey says.

CRATER AT ASHLAND -Crater played by far its best game of the season last Friday against Grants Pass but the Comets still suffered their sixth loss in as many games.

Ordinarily, Ashland coach Jim Nagel might have a tough time motivating his team in a game like this, but Nagel says the No. 7-ranked Grizzlies haven't forgotten last season's 24-14 loss to Crater, a game in which the Comets physically manhandled the Grizz.

They slammed the ball right down our throat, Nagel says. It was humiliating.

Ashland got a big lift last week from sophomore quarterback Brian Clevenger, who came off the bench to throw a pair of touchdown passes in the Grizzlies? 26-8 victory over Redmond.

Clevenger filled in for Cameron Voget, who completed just — of 10 passes for 38 yards while battling the flu and tendinitis in his knee.

Clevenger got his chance after the Grizzlies? backup quarterback — Mike Allen — turned in his uniform last week.

Allen was the starting QB for most of last season and was in the lineup for this year's season-opener against Roseburg, but then lost the job to Voget. He then had to sit out a couple of weeks with a sprained neck.

He (Allen) was frustrated, Nagel says. He's a basketball player and a baseball player and I think he's going to invest more time in those sports.

EAGLE POINT AT CHURCHILL -Eagle Point goes from the frying pan into the fire as it takes on No. 9 Churchill one week after losing to No. 10 Roseburg.

This game marks the fifth time in seven weeks that the Eagles are locking horns with a team that is or has been ranked in the top 10 — and next week Eagle Point journeys to No. 7 Ashland.

Churchill lost to Marshfield in its opening game but has since reeled off five straight wins — all by hefty margins. The Lancers operate out of the double wing, a run-oriented offense that often finds nine or 10 players blocking in front of the ball-carrier.

It's a big, ugly, physical scrum at the point of attack, Eagle Point coach Mike Johnston says.

The Lancers? best player is running back Niles Mittasch, a major college prospect who is the leading rusher in the Midwestern League.

Johnston, though, is more worried about his offense that ranks last in the SOC in rushing (81 yards per game), total offense (221.3) and scoring (10.8).

We need to run the ball better, to move the chains and keep our defense off the field a little bit, he says. And to do that, we need more consistent play in our offensive line.

Tackle Blake Cam and linebacker Sam Dodenhoff are both playing superbly on defense. Cam registered five tackles for losses in the Eagles? 20-6 loss to Roseburg last Friday.

GRANTS PASS AT BEND ?

Grants Pass takes on perhaps the state's best unranked team in the Bend Lava Bears, who have won five in a row since a season-opening loss to Central Catholic.

The Cavemen's rugged defense that is allowing just 200 yards and 10.5 points per game will be tested by a high-octane Lava Bear offense that racked up 50 points against Mountain View two weeks ago.

Quarterback Jace Hansen and running back Mike Rundle pace the Bend attack.

On film they look like North Medford — quick, agile, physical and sharp, Grants Pass coach Jeff Weiss says. Their running back (Rundle) is as good as any in our league.

The Cavers have a fine one of their own in Brandon Hamada, the SOC's second-leading rusher with 627 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Reach reporter at 776-4469, or e-mail dhunt@mailtribune.com