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Triple threat has Panthers thinking big

One week after losing their opening game 41-20 to Canby, the South Medford Panthers lost star tailback Andres Reed to a knee injury.

A season that began with such promise ' the Panthers were picked to win the Southern Oregon Conference ' was quickly fading into chaos.

But the Panthers (3-1 overall, 2-0 SOC) have won three straight since that opening-game defeat, thanks in part to the running of sophomore Logan Boyd, Reed's replacement.

Boyd ran for 125 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries during his first start ' South's 34-20 victory over Ashland on Sept. 27 ' and he gained 85 yards and scored one TD on 20 carries in the Panthers' 52-27 win over Eagle Point last Friday.

Senior fullback Josh Gandee has also been productive during Reed's absence, amassing a total of 138 yards the past two games.

Reed, who suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee, is expected back for this Friday's game against Crater (1-3, 0-2) in Central Point. Reed returned to practice Tuesday and looked to be at full-strength.

But South Medford coach Bill Singler says that Boyd and Gandee will continue to get some carries.

Those two kids have done a great job filling in for Andres, and there's no reason all three can't have the ball in their hands at some point, Singler says. We've now got some depth at the running back position, and with all those kids playing defense, it's good to get them a break.

Singler says that Reed probably won't play defense this week, however.

In other SOC games Friday, third-ranked North Medford (4-0, 2-0) meets Klamath Union (1-3, 0-2) at Spiegelberg Stadium, Roseburg (2-2, 1-1) travels to Eagle Point (2-2, 1-1) and Ashland (2-2, 1-1) visits Grants Pass (2-2, 1-1).

Reed, a 6-foot, 195-pound senior who might be South Medford's best athlete, ran for 980 yards and 13 touchdowns in just seven games last season. Singler is looking for Reed to regain his old form, if not Friday then the following week when the Panthers journey to Roseburg.

He's more explosive than anyone else on our team, but he needs to get back into a rhythm, Singler says. But I'm encouraged because he's been making some good cuts in practice and I haven't seen him limp.

Crater, meanwhile, is likely to be without its star running back ' senior Mike Peila. The bruising fullback, who leads the SOC in rushing with 586 yards and four touchdowns, suffered a partially separated shoulder in the Comets' 42-7 loss to Roseburg last Friday.

He didn't tell anyone he got hurt and carried another six or seven times before coming out, but he had a lot of trouble moving his arm the next day, Crater coach Rich Cable says. We're not completely ruling him out, but he's definitely doubtful.

Kyle Gallegos, a 5-10, 175-pound senior, would be Peila's replacement.

With halfback/cornerback Tom Hammond on the sidelines with a shoulder separation of his own, defensive end Ryan Naegele out with an ankle injury and defensive end Kyle Lambert sitting out a one-game suspension, the Comets were short-handed against Roseburg. And the Indians wore them down with a punishing ground attack.

Prior to last week, the Comets had played rock-solid defense. Cable expects his defense to return to those ornery ways this week.

We've got another big challenge in front of us, but our kids have pride and I expect them to regroup against South Medford, says Cable, adding that Lambert and Hammond should return to action Friday. We've done a lot of hitting in practice this week. I think our defense will bounce back.

The key to beating the Panthers, however, lies in how effectively Crater can run the ball, control the clock and keep South Medford's offense off the field.

Even without Peila, Cable believes the Comets can run efficiently against a South Medford defense that is allowing 200 yards per game on the ground.

Their weakness is run defense, and we've got to exploit that to win, Cable says. We've focused a lot of practice time in that area.

ASHLAND AT GRANTS PASS ' Picked as a state playoff team in the preseason but needing a few games to overcome a lack of experience, Grants Pass finally played up to expectations last Friday when it nearly upset North Medford.

Caveman coach Jeff Weiss fears a letdown after his squad left every ounce of energy on the field during its 19-13 loss to the Black Tornado.

It's easy to let your guard down in our situation, but we can't afford to lose another conference game at this point in time, Weiss says. I'm hoping we can take out our frustration and disappointment in a positive way.

We need to use the North game as a building block.

Weiss wasn't specifically referring to quarterback Mark Heater, but he could have been. Heater completed 17-of-36 passes for 195 yards, one touchdown and one interception against a Tornado defense that led the SOC in pass defense going into the game.

We put in a new protection scheme where we rolled him out of the pocket to buy him some time, Weiss says. Mark played his best high school game by far ' now he needs to do it in consecutive weeks.

Ashland quarterback Bryan Clevenger, meanwhile, completed 20-of-30 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns against Klamath Union last week, including a 32-yard scoring strike to Nick Palmesano on the final play of the game that rallied the Grizzlies to a heart-stopping 28-27 victory.

Clevenger has thrown for an SOC-best 986 yards on the season and Palmesano leads the conference in receiving with 26 catches for 422 yards and four touchdowns.

One thing you can be assured of with Ashland is that their kids will never quit regardless of how far they get behind, Weiss says. They've come from 14 points down in the second half twice this season and that speaks volumes for their resilience.

We're expecting a tough game.

ROSEBURG AT EAGLE POINT '

With only three starters back from last season, Roseburg took some early lumps. But it's the Indians who are now handing out the punishment.

One week after suffering a 49-6 loss to North Medford, the Indians romped past Crater, 42-7, to remain in good shape for an SOC playoff berth.

We had some intense practices last week and made an emphasis for our offensive line to get off the ball, says Roseburg coach Thurman Bell, whose team rushed for 347 yards against the Comets. I had to go back a few years and get a little ornery.

The Indians should be able to run the ball down the throat of an Eagle Point defense that yielded 153 yards on the ground against South Medford.

However, Bell is worried about the Eagles' unpredictable fly offense that has implemented some razzle-dazzle under first-year coach Harry Hedrick.

In last week's 52-27 loss to South Medford, the Eagles executed a triple-reverse pass that went 75 yards for a touchdown.

I saw someone run that play up here last year ' in a P.E. class, Bell says. And it worked then, too. Maybe we should use it.

Eagle Point quarterback Tyson Nelson has thrown for 883 yards and an SOC-leading 11 touchdowns, and Casey Hedrick, Brandon Sychla and Mike Cutts all rank among the top 10 in receiving.

They've got some good skills kids, and that quarterback is a player, Bell says.

The Indians are paced by senior tailback Jake Dorsey, who ran for 185 yards against Crater and has 428 yards on the season.

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail