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Triumph over Grants Pass has South in the hunt

Prep Notebook

Bill Singler believes that winning the Southern Oregon Conference football championship and advancing to the Class 4A state quarterfinals two of the past three years has helped his current South Medford team maintain optimism and hope under some trying circumstances.

Inundated with injuries, suspensions and other setbacks, and coming off a last-second, one-point loss to North Medford, the Panthers found a way to beat Grants Pass in what essentially was a must-win game last Friday at Spiegelberg Stadium.

The Panthers stand just 2-4 overall, but they're 2-1 in the SOC and are now in a favorable position to claim their fifth state playoff berth in the past six years. In fact, if South Medford were to win out against Ashland, Eagle Point and Roseburg, it's conceivable it could gain at least a share of another conference title.

You look at what we've accomplished the past few years, and I can tell you that the seniors on this team don't want to be known as the group that set the program back a notch, says Singler. We've established pride and character, and those words mean a lot to this year's bunch.

South Medford currently has five starters out, but the team has re-energized itself behind quarterback/safety Kyle Singler, running back/linebacker Dan Welcome, receivers/defensive backs Jared Adamson and Tony DeSimone and two-way lineman Ben Koziol.

They all played major roles in the 17-15 win over Grants Pass, but none more than Singler, the 6-foot-8, 210-pound junior who is finally healthy after missing the first three games and parts of two others with a knee injury.

Kyle Singler set the tone with a 50-yard touchdown pass to Adamson on the Panthers' first play from scrimmage. A few minutes later, after Grants Pass had driven from its own 26 to the South Medford 8, he intercepted a pass in the end zone and returned it to the Panther 30.

He later fired a 30-yard TD pass to DeSimone on a frozen rope and picked off another pass that thwarted another Grants Pass drive deep in Panther territory.

One big playmaker such as Kyle Singler ' a nephew of the head coach ' makes a huge difference. The younger Singler began to show his magic the previous week when he rallied the Panthers from a 14-0 deficit to a 19-14 lead against North Medford, only to watch the Tornado win the game in the final 11 seconds.

Getting Kyle back and seeing how he responded in the North game was encouraging, coach Singler says. He's a leader just by his presence. He had a good week of practice, and I had a good feeling he was going to have a breakout game against Grants Pass.

Kyle Singler's most impressive play against the Caveman was an 8-yard scramble on a fourth-and-six play from the Grants Pass 38-yard line late in the third period. The game was tied 7-7 at that juncture, but Singler's scramble, followed by his touchdown pass to DeSimone four plays later, capped a 73-yard, 10-play drive that put the Panthers ahead for good.

On the scramble, Singler looked to be stopped well short of the first-down marker. But he broke two tackles and then stretched his long physique beyond the marker.

I just thought, what the heck, we're going for it on fourth down, Bill Singler says. I felt like our defense had been playing pretty well, and when you've got an athlete like Kyle handling the ball, you're more apt to be a riverboat gambler.

Welcome, meanwhile, churned out a season-best 134 yards on 19 carries ' his third straight game over the century mark.

Dan's not a big kid and he's not the fastest guy out there, but he's a compact runner with tremendous strength, Bill Singler says. He breaks tackles on almost every carry.

In the past month, South Medford has lost to Lake Oswego and North Medford by one point, beaten Crater in overtime and edged Grants Pass by two. Bill Singler would love to win a game handily against Ashland on Friday, but if it's another down-to-the-wire thriller, he knows the Panthers won't wilt under pressure.

WITH SOC TEAMS playing their football games last Thursday, a large chunk of local fans spent Friday night catching a glimpse of Cascade Christian, the state's seventh-ranked Class 2A team.

With a crowd of perhaps 1,200 on hand at the V.A. Domiciliary in White City, the Challengers romped to a 50-0 win over defending state champion Lost River in running its record to 6-0.

Coach Andy Maurer called the win the biggest in school history.

Something tells me the Challengers might be underrated. They've got a big and physical line and some dandy playmakers in end Josh Heidegger and running backs Andrew Soltis, Daniel Sha and Daniel Kinney.

Heidegger, who registered three sacks against Lost River, leads an active defense.

Cascade Christian figures to run the table against Chiloquin, Riddle and St. Mary's and is likely to meet second-ranked Vale or third-ranked Nyssa in its first state playoff game.

THE HIDDEN VALLEY boys basketball team has accepted an invitation to play in the Capital City Classic Dec. 27-30 in Juneau, Alaska. The tournament draws teams from throughout the country. This year, squads from California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Louisiana are scheduled to compete.

Mustangs coach Norm Hayter compares the tournament to the Les Schwab Invitational in Portland. The Alaska tournament doesn't normally invite Class 3A schools such as Hidden Valley, but the Mustangs return a strong nucleus from last season's team that went 25-3. Two of its three losses came in overtime at the state tournament.

Reach reporter Don Hunt at 776-4469, or e-mail Triumph over Grants Pass has South in the hunt"dhunt@mailtribune.com.