Panthers run past Indians
ROSEBURG — Each football season has defining moments that ultimately dictate success or failure.
Fourth-ranked South Medford stared down a few of those Friday night at Finlay Field and came out the better for it against No. 3 Roseburg on the latter's homecoming night.
The Panthers faced a 14-0 deficit only nine minutes into the contest but never wavered in their belief and turned around the top-five clash with 28 straight points to upend the Indians, 28-20, in Southwest Conference action.
The win was South Medford's fourth in the last five games played in Roseburg and allowed the Panthers to improve to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in conference.
"This was a great game and we knew it was going to be," said South Medford head coach Bill Singler. "We drew on history. We just felt like we've won up here three times, we can make it a fourth, you just have to believe in that. This team has a lot of character and a look in our eye. They just believe in one another, even when the chips were down they kept playing."
Roseburg senior Selmar Hutchins intercepted Jack Singler on the third play of the game and capped a four-play drive with a 3-yard plunge for a touchdown. After the Indians again held the Panthers to a three-and-out, Roseburg (4-1, 2-1 SWC) marched 51 yards in eight plays to go up 14-0 on a Javier Mandera 3-yard run.
Needing a spark, sophomore Christian Bowley provided it with a 46-yard run on the Panthers' first play from scrimmage and Jack Singler took over from there, firing a third-down strike to Adrian Garcia for a 21-yard answering score only 64 seconds later.
"When we were down 14-0, making that touchdown drive was huge," said coach Singler. "It got a bounce in our step again and then our defense started to settle in and make stops."
Things bumped up a notch on the ensuing kickoff when Desmond Harrington's kick landed in no man's land and South's Daniel Jimenez swooped in to claim it before the Indians could adjust.
Singler again worked his magic, dropping a perfect pass over the linebacker to Garcia for a 17-yard gain on a third-and-16 at the Roseburg 38. That connection worked again moments later on another third-down play when Garcia crossed in front of Roseburg's Korey Smith and swiped him away for a 24-yard touchdown that tied the game 14-all.
"Adrian's an athlete and he flat-out catches the ball," said Jack Singler. "Him and Matt (Retzlaff) and Max (Farthing), I've got a great group of receivers. If you're going to man Adrian up, he's going to catch the ball."
Both defenses settled in to slow the scoring surge, with South's Jake McCoy recovering a fumble by Ben Goirigolzarri on the Panther 23-yard line.
South Medford appeared to take its first lead inside the final three minutes of the first half when Singler scrambled right and found Retzlaff behind the defense for an apparent 41-yard TD. The play was nullified, however, after it was ruled that Singler had crossed the line of scrimmage on the throw.
With the loss of down, McCoy punted to the Roseburg 4 with 2:18 to go. The Indians tried to move the ball, but quarterback Hayden Lent was pressured and intercepted by Jimenez. The senior caught the ball at the 36, made his way right toward the Panther sideline and picked up a crushing block from Retzlaff and another from Jimmy Ditty to make the go-ahead score.
"It just felt great getting that pick," said Jimenez. "I had some lead blockers coming down the sideline, it was amazing."
Jimenez added another interception to thwart Roseburg's final drive of the game, and was quick to note which pick was his favorite.
"The second to end the game, for sure," he said. "It's all about the team win."
The Indians marched the football right back down at the Panthers in hopes of a half-ending score but went to the well too often on a wheel route and Retzlaff stepped in front for an interception at South's 28 and returned the ball all the way to the Roseburg 9 with 16 seconds to go in the first half.
On the very next play, Garcia split the coverage and hauled in his third TD pass of the game from Singler. Kirk Eastman's kick made it 28-14, and left the Indians squabbling in the end zone over the dramatic turnaround.
"We played real hard, we just made some mistakes early on and South Medford's an awesome ballclub and they took advantage of those mistakes," said Goirigolzarri.
The Indians took the second-half kickoff 80 yards for a score, chewing up all but 3:49 of the third quarter but missed the extra-point attempt. Lent capped the lengthy drive with a great fake handoff to Hutchins and 20-yard scamper on a third-down play.
The Panthers actually forced two fumbles on the drive, but Roseburg recovered both.
South Medford managed only one first down on its ensuing possession, advancing as far as the Roseburg 48, then threw in a surprise when Singler took a snap in shotgun formation on fourth-and-four and booted a punt that rolled to the Indian 6-yard line with 26 seconds to go in the quarter.
Roseburg never got beyond its own 31 after that, with great defensive efforts put forth by Eastman, Pat Alexander and Retzlaff, among others. Garcia also hauled in a beautiful 37-yard pass by Singler on a third-and-nine play that moved the ball to the Roseburg 13 on one series.
"We didn't score the second half but we won the field position battle and that was huge," said coach Singler. "We kept them pinned up so they had to go the long field."
Garcia finished with 138 yards receiving on eight catches, while Singler completed 11 of 23 passes for 154 yards, three TDs and one interception.
"Bill was calling plays for me and I just executed," said Garcia. "Jack was throwing perfect passes and it just all went good. We knew we just had to execute and play good and not get down on ourselves when they were up and had the momentum."
For Roseburg head coach Thurman Bell, the deciding factor in Friday's contest was easy to pinpoint. The Panthers came into the contest with a plus-14 turnover ratio — 17 takeaways against three giveaways — and continued the trend.
"Four turnovers, that was the difference in the ballgame," said Bell, in his 41st season as head coach. "We made some poor decisions, both coaching and as players."
Lent was 10 of 20 passing for 96 yards, while Mandera ran 19 times for 68 yards as Roseburg managed only 146 on the ground on 35 attempts.
Mobley finished with 60 yards on 18 carries, while Bowley had 46 on seven carries.
Retzlaff and Eastman each notched double-digit tackles to help make up for the absence of linebacker Anthony Gomez, who is recovering from a head injury.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry