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Kickers have a leg up

If Friday's Black and Blue Game comes down to a last-second field goal, the coaches of both teams won't hesitate to send out their placekickers at crunch time.

That's because North Medford's Shawn Hale and South Medford's Corey O'Neill are two of the best in the state.

Hale, a senior, has boomed through 6-of-8 field-goal attempts and 37-of-39 extra-point kicks, while O'Neill has made good on 4-of-6 field goals and 38-of-40 PATs.

O'Neill, a junior, set a school record when he hammered a 47-yard field goal against Eagle Point on Sept. 27.

Both kickers are capable of connecting from 50 yards and beyond.

I think they're the two best kickers in the state, North Medford coach John Beck says. They've both got huge legs, and they're both very accurate.

Hale, who is being recruited by Oregon State, Arizona State and a slew of smaller colleges, has never had a chance to kick a game-winning field goal but says he would welcome the opportunity.

It's what every kicker dreams about, he says.

Hale played soccer throughout elementary school and junior high, but at the urging of friends, turned out for football his freshman year at North.

Despite his lack of experience, Hale has developed into a pretty fair defensive back as well as kicker. He fills in whenever either of North Medford's starting cornerbacks ' Tyler Engle and Alex Grigas ' needs a breather.

O'Neill would also make a dandy DB, but he pulls double duty at South Medford, starring on the Panthers' soccer team that won the Southern Oregon Conference.

O'Neill spends only enough time at football practice to work on his kicking, then heads to soccer practice.

A good kicker means more than people realize, South Medford coach Bill Singler says. Field position means a lot in a close game, and when these guys kick the ball into the end zone on kickoffs, that means the other team is getting it at the 20.

Leave it to South Medford quarterback Boomer Marshall to pull a trick play when a game's on the line.

With the score tied 21-21 in the waning seconds of last Friday's game against Grants Pass, the Panthers were positioned at the Caveman 10-yard line and out of timeouts. Marshall hurried to the line of scrimmage acting as though he was going to spike the ball and stop the clock.

Instead, he fired a sideline pass to Ryan Benson, who gained 7 yards before being pushed out of bounds at the 3.

Marshall scored on a quarterback sneak on the following play with 23 seconds left in the game, securing a 28-21 victory.

That was just me and Benson playing street football, Marshall said. The rest of the team didn't know it was coming and neither did the coaches.

Marshall had watched former Miami Dolphins great Dan Marino use the same tactic several years ago when he faked a spike and fired a last-second touchdown pass to beat the New York Jets.

You never forget something like that, Marshall said.

Other than quarterback, the offensive line is probably the toughest position to play in football.

Centers, guards and tackles must be ready to change blocking assignments at a moment's notice, depending on what the defense is doing.

And so when South Medford starting tackle Brian Weidman went down with a knee injury last week in practice, Singler had reason to worry.

But the line stayed solid against Grants Pass as guard Travis Phillips moved to tackle and sophomore Noah Brennan filled in admirably at guard.

The 6-2, 217-pound Brennan was playing exclusively at the JV level at the start of the season but has worked his way up.

We're really excited about that kid ' on both sides of the ball, Singler said. He's got a ton of potential, and he's going to get a lot bigger.

North Medford has had its own problems up front. Starting offensive guard Brandon Weston broke his leg against Grants Pass on Sept. 27, and then his replacement ' Phil Card ' went down with a hip injury.

But both are expected back Friday, with Weston claiming his old starting spot.

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