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South eyes winning campaign

The critics were plentiful, the faultfinding widespread when the South Medford High football team posted its second straight 1-8 season a year ago.

Third-year coach Bill Singler pleaded for patience. He got more kids to turn out and his players seemed to be improving, but the win totals weren't high enough to please the grandstand quarterbacks.

With the pressure building and the tomorrows beginning to run thin, Singler knew the 2000 season had to produce more than just moral victories.

He was confident that it could. And it has.

The Panthers, 4-4, can secure their first winning season since 1996 and their first state playoff berth since 1994 with a victory over Grants Pass tonight at Mel Ingram Field.

In other games involving SOC teams, Crater (0-8) travels to Roseburg (6-2), Klamath Union (2-6) journeys to Eagle Point (1-7) and No. 3-ranked North Medford (8-0) meets No. 7 Ashland (7-1) at Spiegelberg Stadium.

All games begin at 7:30 p.m.

The Panthers are the underdog tonight, but having an opportunity for a winning season and a playoff berth is what the team has strived for since the first day of practice, Singler says.

We've gone from the bottom of the heap to the middle of the pack, and now we're trying to get into the upper echelon, he says. We think we've got a decent shot to win this game and that would be a tremendous reward for our 17 seniors.

Singler is especially proud of John McKay, the Panthers? starting quarterback the past two seasons who broke his thumb in the preseason. McKay moved to wide receiver and, playing much of the season with a cast on his hand, has emerged as the leading receiver in the SOC.

McKay and sophomore teammate John Benson each have 31 catches.

John is the quiet leader of this team, Singler says. No one has outworked him the last three years. He took a beating while playing quarterback, but he never complained or felt sorry for himself. And then when things were looking up, he breaks his thumb and has to change positions.

But he turned into one of the best receivers in the conference, and he's just as valuable to us on defense.

Meanwhile, sophomore Boomer Marshall stepped in at quarterback and goes into tonight's game with 1,270 yards passing — tops in the SOC — and nine touchdowns.

The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Marshall will likely need a big game for the Panthers to overcome a stalwart Caveman defense that held North Medford to 246 yards and 12 points last week.

Grants Pass lost to the Black Tornado, 12-9, in part due to five fumbled exchanges between quarterback and center.

We've worked on that part of our game so much this week that we've got some quarterbacks with raw hands and some centers with raw butts, Grants Pass coach Jeff Weiss says. I'm hoping we've got that problem ironed out.

The Cavemen get much of their offense from two excellent skill position players — senior tailback Brandon Hamada and senior slotback Parker Lane.

Hamada managed only 21 yards on eight carries against North Medford but has 693 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season. Lane ranks second in the SOC in receiving yardage (465) and has eight touchdowns.

We need to re-establish Brandon Hamada, Weiss says. We were in second-and-long situations so many times last week, and that forced us to pass the ball. We need Brandon to carry the ball more than eight times.

Tonight's game has special meaning to Weiss, who served as South Medford's defensive coordinator the past two years.

I'm really happy for those guys, especially those seniors who really took some lumps the past two years, Weiss says. And not just on the football field.

Weiss was alluding to the deaths of teammate Tyler Carlton in 1998 and classmate Emily Sullivan in 1999. Both were killed in car wrecks.