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Panthers run past Saxons

With tailback Kevin Gilmore flattening just about everyone in his path in the early going and South Medford's defense flocking to the football, things couldn't have looked much better for the Panthers in their season opener Friday night against visiting South Salem.

A loss of intensity by the hometown boys in the second half and some adjustments by the Saxons narrowed the gap, but the Panthers' early cushion was more than enough in a 35-14 triumph at Spiegelberg Stadium.

"Everybody had butterflies ... we were all ready for this game," said Gilmore, who totaled 100 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries. "We've been waiting since November when we lost to Jesuit (in the state playoffs). We just came out here not too cocky, just confident, and played football."

Gilmore found his way into the end zone on three straight series following interceptions and the Panthers managed a 28-0 lead 19 minutes into the contest to eliminate much of the suspense in the nonleague affair.

A couple second-half fumbles deep in Panther territory opened the door for the Saxons but a fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Jack Singler to Austin Griffin sealed the outcome.

"One thing about high school football is it's so unpredictable," Panther coach Bill Singler said of the tale of two halves. "Here it is, though, you look at the scoreboard and it's 35-14 and we're going, 'Wow, we've got a lot of room for improvement.' And that's good."

Gilmore, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound bruiser, was the story of the game in the early stages. The senior had a nice path set out for him by the Panthers' offensive line and sliced through for hard-charging runs time and again to push back the Saxons. He amassed 76 of his yards rushing in the first half on 12 carries.

Matt Retzlaff set up the first of three Gilmore touchdown runs by intercepting a pass by South Salem sophomore Jaylynn Bailey, who was making his varsity debut. Retzlaff stepped in front of a third-down pass and returned it to the Saxons' 36-yard line.

Five plays later, following a nifty 14-yard pickup by Mark Mexia, Gilmore burst through the defense for a 6-yard score.

Bailey's night got worse moments later, again on third down, when safety Josh Havird made a nice read on the ball and stepped in front of Jake Withnell for an interception that he returned to the South Salem 10. A penalty pushed the Panthers back to the 26, but a slick 19-yard catch and run by Retzlaff set up a 1-yard TD run by Gilmore.

The rout was seemingly on a few plays later, when Cascade Christian transfer Tyler Marshall hauled in a deflected pass deep in South Salem territory and returned it to the 22. Gilmore didn't need any help setting up his third and final score, darting left behind a nice hole made by Kevin Thibeault, D.J. McGinnis and Jimmy Ditty and then cutting back against the Saxons' pursuit to run untouched to the end zone.

"Our line has developed a lot this summer with all of us playing together and building as a team," added Gilmore. "They know how each other think, know when to cut block and when to block for me when I'm going to cut. They think like I do so I just have to run."

The ensuing kickoff marked the end of the first quarter, but South Salem was held to a three-and-out series and South Medford responded with a 10-play, 56-yard drive for another score. Gilmore plowed over defenders on four straight carries to push the ball deep into Saxons territory, and Mexia took it from there with a quick 5-yard run and a 2-yard effort to make it 28-0 after Parker Thomas' fourth extra-point kick.

The half ended with that score holding up as the Panthers limited South Salem to only 49 yards of total offense (35 passing and 14 rushing on 15 attempts) compared to 161 of their own.

"(South Medford) did a good job coming off the ball," said South Salem coach Scott DuFault. "They were ready to play when the whistle blew and we weren't. As a result of that we got down early and we made mistakes. The bottom line is they played better than we did tonight."

A lost fumble by Jordon Townsend on the opening kickoff of the third quarter brought new hope to the Saxons, and they finally broke through on a great reception by Junior Espitia to cap a six-play drive. On a fourth-and-seven play from the Panther 11, Espitia went up high for a fade in the right corner of the end zone and came down inches inbounds despite blanket coverage from Andrew Phillips.

A fumbled exchange early in the fourth quarter between Ditty and Singler led to another turnover at the South Medford 16, and South Salem capitalized behind the shifty running of Jake Fohn, who capped a four-play drive with a 7-yard scamper into the end zone. Fohn tallied 82 of his 102 yards rushing in the second half.

The Panthers thwarted South Salem's next drive, then put the game away on a 30-yard, fourth-down connection from Singler to a wide-open Griffin with 3:12 to play.

Singler completed 7 of 15 passes for 96 yards in his first varsity start, while Bailey wrapped up his night 12-for-30 for 83 yards and four interceptions — the final by linebacker Mark Mexia after a deflected pass at the goal line in the third quarter.

South Medford 35, So. Salem 14

At Spiegelberg Stadium

South Salem 0 0 7 7 —14

South Medford 21 7 0 7 —35

SM — Gilmore 6 run (Thomas kick)

SM — Gilmore 1 run (Thomas kick)

SM — Gilmore 22 run (Thomas kick)

SM — Mexia 2 run (Thomas kick)

SS — Espitia 11 pass from Bailey (Sanchez kick)

SS — Fohn 7 run (Sanchez kick)

SM — Griffin 30 pass from Singler (Thomas kick)

TEAM STATISTICS

SS SM

First Downs 10 12

Rushes-Yards 31-89 35-169

Passing Yards 83 96

Comp-Att-Int 12-30-4 7-15-0

Total Yards 172 265

Punts 3-35 2-44

Fumbles-lost 0-0 2-2

Penalties-yards 5-35 5-55

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING

South Salem — Fohn 19-102, Ogami 3-14, Bailey 8-(-29), Espitia 1-2.

South Medford — Gilmore 19-100, Mexia 4-24, Mobley 6-23, Townsend 3-12, Eastman 1-12, Singler 1-(-4), Havird 1-2.

PASSING

South Salem — Bailey 12-30-4 83.

South Medford — Singler 7-15-0 96.

RECEIVING

South Salem — Espitia 2-40, Withnell 2-24, Alvis 2-2, DuFault 2-3, Fohn 2-19, Moore 2-(-5).

South Medford — Retzlaff 2-34, Havird 2-17, Gilmore 1-9, Mexia 1-6, Griffin 1-30.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com

South Medford running back Kevin Gilmore (28) pulls away from a pack of South Salem defenders for a touchdown during the first half on Friday. - Denise Baratta