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SOC teams face stiff test in openers

No one has to tell South Medford High football coach Bill Singler that his Panthers face an uphill battle in their state playoff opener Friday night in Eugene.

The Panthers play at No. 9-ranked Churchill, which has won eight straight since a season-opening loss to Marshfield.

In other playoff games involving teams from the Southern Oregon Conference, North Medford (9-0) meets Lincoln of Portland (6-3) at Spiegelberg Stadium, Ashland (7-2) travels to Clackamas (7-2) and Roseburg (7-2) ventures to South Albany (8-1).

Not only will the Panthers be facing a double-wing offense that no team has held under three touchdowns this season, they?ll also be facing one of the state's most highly-recruited running backs in senior Niles Mittasch.

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Mittasch has rushed for nearly 1,000 yards. He's averaging 8.7 yards per carry and he's scored a whopping 146 points — 23 touchdowns and four two-point conversions — in Churchill's nine games. Mittasch also leads the Lancers in receiving with 26 catches for 404 yards.

He's definitely a great back, the best we've seen all season, Singler says. But their offensive scheme is what concerns us most.

It's unconventional and we've only got one week to prepare for it.

The double wing, popularized in Oregon by former Bandon coach Don Markham, is a run-oriented, power attack that features two tight ends and two wingbacks. Most of the plays are directed at the perimeter, with pulling guards and tackles and each of the backs other than the ball-carrier leading interference.

It's a wall of humanity, Singler says. It's almost like a rugby scrum on every play. But they're very effective at running it and that kid (Mittasch) is a threat to score on every play.

Churchill has racked up 50 or more points in four games, including a 63-0 demolition of North Eugene last Friday.

What has made the Lancers doubly difficult to defend this season is that they've got a fine passing attack to complement their running game. In fact, three-year starting quarterback Jeff Rhode was the Midwestern League's offensive player of the year after completing 73 of 121 passes for 1,446 yards, 16 touchdowns and just one interception. Mittasch was the league's MVP.

Rhode has been tutored by Churchill assistant coach Chris Miller, a former University of Oregon and NFL quarterback.

Singler admits that South Medford's best chance of containing Rhode, Mittasch and Co. is to keep the Lancers? offense off the field.

We need to make some first downs with our own running game and our controlled passing game, Singler says. We can't go three-and-out very many times or we?ll be in trouble.

South Medford is led by sophomore quarterback Boomer Marshall, who completed 16 of 33 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown in the Panthers? 14-9 victory over Grants Pass last Friday that boosted South into the playoffs for the first time in six years.

On the season, Marshall has thrown for 1,451 yards, the top mark in the Southern Oregon Conference.

If we can protect Boomer, he?ll make plays, Singler says. He's not going to be intimidated.

While Marshall turned in a solid performance against Grants Pass, it was the Panthers? defense more than anything that enabled the team to win.

End Caleb Burns, defensive backs John McKay and Jared Mulhollen and linebackers Bjorn Johnson and Jason Roberts all had big games, Singler says. Roberts was in action for the first time all season after breaking his foot during daily doubles.

Defensively, we're playing at a much higher level than we were at the start of the year, Singler says. We're playing our best football right now.

ASHLAND AT CLACKAMAS -The Grizzlies face a formidable first-round opponent in the Cavaliers, who beat Oregon City 37-35 last Friday to secure the No. 2 playoff berth from the Three Rivers League.

Clackamas is coached by Ray Baker, a passing game guru who has turned around several programs in Oregon and Washington. Baker, 53, has coached at no less than 11 high schools and colleges, including St. Mary's High of Medford, Grants Pass and Southern Oregon University.

Baker calls his passing attack the fly and shoot, a hybrid of the fly and run-and-shoot offenses.

Clackamas lines up with one fullback, two slotbacks, two wide receivers and no tight ends.

The Cavs are led by quarterback Jake Spellmeyer, who has completed 106 of 174 passes for 1,586 yards, 14 touchdowns and just five interceptions. However, Spellmeyer injured a knee in the win over Oregon City and is questionable for Friday's game.

Fullback Jon Ownes paces Clackamas in rushing with 537 yards and five touchdowns while slotback Grant Baker — the coach's son — leads the Cavs in receiving with 40 catches for 428 yards and nine touchdowns.

Grant Baker was the leading receiver in the Three Rivers League.

They like to spread you out and utilize their skilled athletes, which they have an abundance of, Ashland coach Jim Nagel says.

Nagel hopes his defense, which ranks No. 2 in the SOC and has played well most of the season, can meet the challenge.

Ashland wide receiver/ defensive back Ryan Goodman, who bruised his ribs during last Friday's 24-0 loss to North Medford, is expected to play.

ROSEBURG AT SOUTH ALBANY -Like Ashland, Roseburg was granted no favors in this first-round matchup.

South Albany tied Sprague and South Salem for the Valley League title but came away with the No. 2 playoff seed following a coin flip. The Rebels have won seven straight since a 29-26 loss to Sprague on Sept. 15.

Roseburg coach Thurman Bell is concerned about stopping South Albany's double-wing offense.

We saw it three years ago against Dallas and won that game, but it takes a while to get used to it, Bell says.

The game features perhaps the state's top two tight ends in senior Jordon Hunter of South Albany and junior Joe Newton of Roseburg. The 6-6, 260-pound Hunter has verbally committed to play football at the University of California.

The Rebels also have a fine quarterback in Kevin Heim, a 6-5, 215-pound senior who was the offensive player of the year in the Valley League. Heim has passed for 911 yards and 12 touchdowns and run for another 190 yards and seven scores.

The Indians, who have been ravaged by injuries this season, are the healthiest they've been since the start of the season.

It looks like we got the toughest draw in the whole state, Bell says, but we're as ready as we?ll ever be.

Bell will alternate his two standout tailbacks, junior Rod Cope and senior Conway Bixby, who have combined for 1,146 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Reach reporter at 776-4469, or e-mail him at