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South defense states its case as SOC force

Three weeks after yielding 60 points to cross-town rival North Medford, the South Medford Panthers have begun to establish themselves as a defensive football team.

No one will ever confuse them with the Fearsome Foursome, the Purple People Eaters, the Steel Curtin, Gang Green or, for that matter, the better high school defensive teams in the state.

But the fact that South Medford has yielded just six points in its last two games ' a 13-6 overtime victory over Grants Pass on Oct. 11 and last Friday's 39-0 romp over Ashland ' is cause for a parade down Barnett Street.

The next test for the Panther 'D' will come tonight against Eagle Point at Spiegelberg Stadium.

— In other SOC games, fifth-ranked North Medford (6-1, 4-0 SOC) visits ninth-ranked Roseburg (6-1, 4-0) and Crater (0-7, 0-5) journeys to Grants Pass (3-4, 2-2). Ashland (2-5, 0-5) plays host to Klamath Union (3-4) in a non-conference game.

South Medford coach Bill Singler has kept his club's recent defensive prowess in perspective, knowing that the Panthers haven't played particularly strong offensive teams the past two weeks.

Still, he likes what he sees from a stopping force that has moved up to fourth in the SOC in total defense (288.6), third in scoring defense (20.1) and second in turnovers forced (20).

Our defense is starting to come together, says Singler, whose team stands 3-1 in the SOC, 4-3 overall and can clinch a state playoff berth with a victory. We made defense an emphasis going into the summer and on into fall camp, and we're finally starting to get the hang of things.

We've got some athletes who play with passion and make plays. We're still not as physical as we'd like to be, but we're getting there.

Junior inside linebacker Justin Meyer has led the defensive resurgence, and Singler has been tickled with the performances of three sophomores ' end Rick Imhausen, inside linebacker Ben Koziol and cornerback Tony Desimone ' along with freshman outside linebacker Kyle Singler.

Senior tackles Nick Griffin and Theo Elliott have also had an impact.

The Grants Pass game was really a turning point for our defense, Singler says. We shut them out for 46 minutes and that made our kids realize that they can stop a good team.

Eagle Point (4-3, 2-3 SOC) will present the Panthers with some new and difficult challenges, however. The Eagles are using a triple-option, flexbone offense under veteran coach Harry Hedrick.

They lead the SOC in rushing at 226.5 yards per game and rank second in total offense at 309.9.

They run an offense that can give you fits, Singler says. We've been playing good defense lately, but we're going to get tested (tonight).

The Eagles are led by Nate Idrogo, the third-leading rusher in the SOC with 468 yards and five touchdowns, and quarterbacks Creighton Nevin and Jered McClellan. Nevin, a running specialist, ranks fifth in the conference in rushing with 382 yards and six TDs while McClellan has passed for 419 yards and two scores.

While Singler is fretting over the Eagles' triple option, Hedrick is equally worried about South Medford's passing game.

The Panthers pace the SOC in passing yardage, averaging 189 per contest, and junior quarterback Jon Weaver is coming off an 11-for-14, 144-yard, two-touchdown performance against Ashland.

We've had a hard time stopping the pass, and that is their forte, Hedrick says. We need to get some pressure on their quarterback (Weaver) or they're going to exploit our secondary.

As important as the game is to the Panthers ' they can secure their third state playoff berth in the last four years ' it's equally vital for Eagle Point.

With a win, the Eagles can keep alive their playoff hoops and clinch their first winning season in six years.

More than that, Hedrick says, a victory over South Medford would provide his program a big building block.

If we're going to be a quality program, then we've got to beat a team like Grants Pass or South Medford, Hedrick says. We had our chances against Grants Pass and didn't get it done (the Eagles lost 14-12).

CRATER AT GRANTS PASS '

Grants Pass has dropped two straight games and needs a win to keep alive its playoff hopes.

The Cavemen's offense has scored just 13 points the past two weeks but should come alive against a Crater defense that is yielding 330.4 yards and 35.3 points per game.

Crater has struggled to put points on the board all season but did manage to score 20 in the second half of last Friday's 32-28 loss to Klamath Union.

KLAMATH UNION AT ASHLAND ' Starting quarterback Logan Bishop and backup Beau Lewis are both suffering from rotator cuff injuries in their throwing arms, and if neither can play, the Grizzlies are in grave danger of losing their sixth straight game.

Sophomore Derick Steadmon will get the call at QB if Bishop and Lewis are out.

Klamath Union can secure its first winning season in 14 years with victories tonight and at Eagle Point next Friday.

The Pelicans feature a marquee running back in Sean Anderson, who torched Crater for a 91-yard touchdown run and an 88-yard kickoff return last week.

He'll be one of the best running backs we'll see all year, Ashland coach David Coldiron says of Anderson. He runs hard and he's got breakaway speed.

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