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Sheldon reclaims Southwest Conference title

EUGENE — The coronation came early as top-ranked Sheldon reclaimed the Southwest Conference football championship.

The Irish, behind the brilliant play of quarterback Jordan Johnson, dispatched eighth-ranked South Medford 63-14 on the final night of the regular season Friday to take back the crown the Panthers snatched a year ago.

South Medford (6-3, 3-2 SWC) finished in third place and will visit Oregon City, the No. 3 team from the Three Rivers League, in the state playoffs next week.

Sheldon (9-0, 5-0 SWC) won its third title in the conference's four-year existence and will host Tigard, the fourth-place team from the Pacific Conference, in the first round.

Johnson gave an indication of what was to come on Sheldon's second play from scrimmage.

After a long kickoff return set up the Irish, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior, who is being recruited by a number of NCAA Division I schools, rolled to his right to pass from the Panthers' 18. Finding no one open, he tucked the ball, skimmed along the sideline, weaved to his left, gave up ground to get the edge and scampered into the left side of the end zone.

Johnson changed direction more than a pinball in giving Sheldon a 7-0 lead with only 38 seconds gone.

"We've seen him do that on film the whole year," said South Medford coach Bill Singler. "When he gets in space, he's such an aggressive, fast runner, and he's so decisive with his cuts. If you don't come to balance and explode on him to tackle him, he'll just make you miss."

That happened often.

Johnson ran for four touchdowns in the first half, producing 83 yards on eight carries.

In the second half, he tried the air and passed for three scores.

For the game, he carried 13 times for 137 yards and completed 15 of 20 passes for 187 yards, with one interception.

Johnson now has 12 rushing TDs and 33 passing.

"You have to have team speed to defend them, and we're just not that fast," said Singler. "When they spread you out and get in the open, they're tough to defend."

The Panthers showed some fight — a characteristic Singler thought was missing a week earlier in a lopsided loss to Roseburg — into the second half.

Panthers quarterback Josh Milhollin and wide receiver Allen Fitzsimmons hooked up on a 62-yard touchdown pass two minutes into the third quarter, then Milhollin found Brandon Dollarhide with a conversion pass to make it 28-14.

Milhollin played into the fourth quarter and moved well on an ankle he sprained the week before.

On the touchdown, the 6-1 Fitzsimmons outjumped 5-9 Trevor Davies at the Sheldon 30, catching the ball high over his head, then keeping his feet as the falling defender tried desperately to grab at his legs.

"That at least gave the kids some life, got a bounce in their step," said Singler. "Then the floodgates opened and we just couldn't cinch it up. We lost all of our enthusiasm."

Moreover, he said, it gave the Irish some.

"It's kind of like that slogan," said Singler. "We woke up a sleeping giant."

Sheldon responded with a 66-yard TD drive to make it 35-14, then forced the South Medford into three straight three-and-outs while scoring on its three ensuing possessions.

Reserves finished from there.

Singler found a positive in the spirit the Panthers showed after a lethargic effort against Roseburg, which last week belted them 48-7 — contributing to South Medford being outscored 111-21 in two games.

He also was pleased with a couple drives in the second quarter, when the Panthers played the Irish to a 7-7 standstill.

"That was pretty good football," he said.

South Medford's first touchdown was a 2-yard run by Mario Sainez. He carried 10 times for 32 yards on a 76-yard march.

For the game, Milhollin was 9-for-19 passing for 143 yards.

South Medford 0 6 8 0 —14

Sheldon 21 7 21 14 —63

S — Johnson 18 run (Campbell kick)

S — Johnson 4 run (Campbell kick)

S — Johnson 2 run (Campbell kick)

SM — Sainez 2 run (kick blocked)

S — Johnson 8 run (Campbell kick)

SM — Fitzsimmons 62 pass from Milhollin (Dollarhide pass from Milhollin)

S — Campbell 15 pass from Johnson (Campbell kick)

S — White 36 pass from Johnson (Campbell kick)

S — Abeene 6 pass from Johnson (Campbell kick)

S — Abeene 30 run (Campbell kick)

S — Lapite 28 run (Campbell kick)

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com