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South squeezes out win

In about-face from last year, Panthers start fast and knock off No. 1-ranked North Medford

What a difference a year makes.

Seventh-ranked South Medford had several goals in mind heading into Friday night's Black and Blue Game against No. 1-ranked North Medford, but none greater than simply to survive the first quarter.

A year ago, the Black Tornado stormed out to a 37-0 lead in the first 10 minutes of that meeting and cruised to a 60-17 Southern Oregon Conference victory.

But on Friday, the Panthers turned the tables on North and served notice they would not go quietly in this year's go-round.

— Two interceptions by Jacob DeBoer put South in position to take a 15-0 lead, and the Panthers withstood a typical Tornado rally to earn a hard-fought, 28-21 victory over their cross-town rivals in front of a packed house at Spiegelberg Stadium.

We knew we had to come out fast and keep the pressure on them, South Medford head coach Bill Singler said, because when North gets ahead of you, they just seem to gain more confidence and want to put you away.

The Panthers' defense made sure that didn't happen early as Ryan Odell sacked North quarterback Ben Running on the first play from scrimmage, and South (4-1, 2-0 SOC) stayed in the senior's face all night. DeBoer intercepted Running's first pass of the night on third down and the Panthers took over at the North 25.

On the next play, South quarterback Jon Weaver found Kyle Singler angling toward the end zone for a score as the 6-foot-7 sophomore receiver slipped between two North defenders.

DeBoer's first interception was huge, said South linebacker Justin Meyer. That was the biggest turning point of the game. The goal was to stop the normal North swarm and DeBoer forcing that turnover really helped our confidence and turned the tide.

The Black Tornado (5-1, 2-1) stubbed its toe once again on its next drive as Odell's hit on tailback Josh Casebere forced a fumble that was picked up by South senior Bobby Lowe.

While that turnover didn't prove to hurt North, the same couldn't be said on the Tornado's next series as DeBoer once again dropped back in coverage and intercepted a pass intended for Ryan Weisz at the Tornado 22.

Four plays later, Odell found a crease and plowed into the end zone from the 7-yard-line. A mix-up on the PAT snap forced Weaver to ad lib, but the senior answered the challenge by outracing two North defenders to the pylon for a two-point conversion and 15-0 lead 7&

189; minutes into the contest.

But even as the Panthers celebrated their early fortune, they knew in the backs of their minds the Tornado wasn't about to fold.

We knew they were going to come back, that's the kind of team they are, said Weaver, who completed 7 of 14 passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns. They're all warriors, so we definitely knew we were going to have to play an entire game.

True to form, North rallied with a 60-yard scoring drive, capped with 29.5 seconds to go in the first quarter by an 11-yard run from Weisz, who simply followed the clearout block of center Johnny Vaigafa.

On the ensuing kickoff, Logan Boyd strained for extra yardage near the 30 but had the ball knocked from his grasp by Ryan Folsom and recovered by North's Henry Olsen at South's 32.

Running immediately found Kyle Williamson for a 27-yard completion, and Casebere tucked behind Tim Endecott for a 5-yard scoring run with 6.8 seconds to go in the quarter. North's bid for a tying two-point conversion was denied, however, when Singler tackled Casebere short of the goal line.

The Panthers, who won the field position battle all night thanks to standout punting by Tommy George, answered with 6:53 to go in the second quarter as Weaver hooked up with Singler for a wide-open, 22-yard score up the Panther sideline. Noah Brennan's extra-point made it 22-13.

North appeared destined to answer with a solid drive of its own, but Running was forced into his third turnover of the first half when Brennan's hit behind the line of scrimmage dislodged the ball and Jon Lang recovered.

I had too many turnovers in the first quarter, Running lamented after the game. We made a run against them, but we kinda shot ourselves in the foot too many times (with five turnovers).

I need to start taking care of the ball. I need to figure out what I'm doing because I didn't put our team in a position to win.

All evidence was to the contrary in the second half, however, as Running put North in position to trim South's nine-point lead late in the third quarter. The senior used a 23-yard pass to Ty Ryan and a 6-yard strike to Steve Johnson to set up a fourth down from South's 2.

Forgoing the field goal, North head coach Rod Rumrey showed faith in his line by having Running go for it on a QB keeper.

But once again, the Panther defense rose to the occasion and Brennan sliced in to hold Running to no gain.

I thought we were on the 1&

189; -yard-line and come to find out we were on the 2&

189; , said Rumrey. That's a horrible decision on my part. The fact that we were back a little further than I thought, we definitely should have kicked the field goal. At that time we needed two scores and a field goal would've been very important. It was just a bad decision.

Making matters worse for North, Weaver guided the Panthers 98 yards for a score to make it 28-13 with 10 minutes to play. The game-clinching TD came via another ad lib by Weaver, who was flushed from the pocket on a third-and-11 from his own 36 but opted to throw instead of run for the first time in the game.

I wasn't going to make the first down anyway, so I just figured I might as well pull up and see who's open, said Weaver. There wasn't anyone around Seth (Hernandez), and I just put a lot of air underneath it and let him run under it. Then I just sat back and enjoyed the rest of it.

As did his Panther teammates, whose emotional level picked up with every yard during Hernandez's 64-yard score.

Running, who completed 16 of 30 passes for 213 yards, connected with Williamson for a 20-yard score on North's next series, and to Weisz for a two-point conversion to make it 28-21.

After a missed field goal by Brennan gave North hope, South took it away when Dan Chancler pulled down Running's third interception.

Still not done, however, Running used a big completion to Drew Herrera and another to Kyle Williamson to drive to the South 20 in the final seconds before the Panthers bowed their neck for the final time.

I loved how our defense came under adversity and we just held them, said Meyer. We believed in ourselves and felt that we could stop them all the way to the end. It wasn't an easy task out there because North's a good team, but we handled it pretty well. We had two weeks to get prepared and we were ready. We had 60-17 on our minds and wanted revenge bad.

South Medford?s Noah Brennan, left, and Brett Roeloffs (70) sack North Medford quarterback Ben Running, causing a fumble in the first half. Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli - Mail Tribune Roy Musitelli