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Ground attack paves way for South

When South Medford football coach Bill Singler has a mind to do something, you can bet it's going to get done.

The 13th-year head coach entered last Friday's season opener against South Salem with plans on seeing what his running game had to offer, and by game's end he certainly got an eyeful.

The Panthers sported a 2-to-1 ratio in favor of the ground game in taking a 28-0 halftime lead over the Saxons, and tightened the belt to work that group even more in the second half of an eventual 35-14 triumph. Once all was said and done, the Panthers had compiled 169 yards on the ground on 35 carries by a host of ballcarriers.

"I wanted to really look at our offensive line on tape and I wanted to see our backs all get a chance to carry the ball," Singler said after the game. "If you want to compete at the high school level, you've got to play physically. You just can't line up and be a finesse team when it gets down to playing the Jesuits, the Sheldons and Roseburgs and all those kind of schools. You've got to be tough. We have some goals and we want to play physically and I thought that was as good of a first half performance that we've had at South Medford in a long time."

For someone who has become as known for providing one of the state's more prominent passing attacks year after year, such a move really wasn't as much of a departure for Singler as some might think. In the best Panther years, the running game has always been a productive piece of the puzzle, be it the days of Andres Reed, Logan Boyd, Ryan Odell or Patrick Thibeault.

On Friday, Kevin Gilmore added his name to that list by gaining 100 yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries against the Saxons. Fullback Mark Mexia (four carries for 24 yards) and reserve runners Denzel Mobley (six for 23), Jordon Townsend (three for 12) and Kirk Eastman (one for 12) each had their hand in toting the rock behind an offensive line that included Kevin Thibeault, D.J. McGinnis, Jimmy Ditty, Jason Oakes, Wade Kerr and Joe Cooney.

"For us to be the team we want to be, we have to be able to run the ball," said Singler. "It's as simple as that."

While some might have envisioned the Panthers to sling the ball all around the field with Singler's son Jack now at quarterback, nothing could have been further from the coach's mind last Friday or any game day for that matter.

"I don't care if it's my son or not, my job is to protect the quarterback position so that they can grow and have that success that comes in time," said Singler. "I've been around coaching enough to know that you have to bring a quarterback along. There's an adjustment period and you cannot put your quarterback out on an island. If you have a strong running game, you feature that early in the year so he can gain confidence and not just put all the pressure on a quarterback that really has not seen the different kinds of defenses and the fast-pace of this level."

That said, there's no grand formula that coaches or quarterbacks can follow to determine how much is too much of a burden to shoulder. In his varsity debut, Jack Singler completed 7 of 15 passes for 96 yards and one touchdown. Those numbers could've been even better, but the excitement of his first game led the junior to overthrow a couple attempts.

"I think with Jack, he missed a couple throws he normally would make," said the coach, "but if he makes a couple more completions, he's 9-for-15 and I'm fine with that. He did a good job of managing the team."

The younger Singler might see more chances to air it out Friday when the Panthers travel to Beaverton for their first road game. The Beavers, who suffered a 24-17 overtime loss at Tigard last week, like to stack the line on defense and have good team speed to flow to the football.

"I think we're going to have to look at ourselves and say it's going to be tough sledding maybe to run the ball and maybe look to throw the ball more than we did last week," said coach Singler. "Then again, who knows what we'll do. We're still trying to figure that out."

Beaverton and Tigard waged a back-and-forth battle last week, with senior tight end David Bolhuis making a one-handed catch in the back of the end zone for an 11-yard score with 40 seconds to play to force the Kansas Plan overtime. The Beavers were unable to match Tigard's opening score in the extra session, but did show big-play potential with junior Ershad Mahmood returning an interception 90 yards for a score. Mahmood was stopped on a fourth-down reverse in overtime to close the contest.

The young Beavers are led by junior quarterback Ben Cunha, who completed 8 of 22 passes for 70 yards and rushed 14 times for 65 yards in the opener.

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