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Panthers look to stay on winning course

When third-ranked South Medford last squared off with Thurston, it was supposed to be a battle of high-octane offenses worthy of overloading the scoreboard.

That didn't happen.

Instead, South Medford scored the only touchdown of the first half, while Thurston scored once in each of the final two quarters to claim an improbable 14-7 victory given the numbers each football team had previously put up.

With each team averaging more than 404 yards and 36 points per game this year, is it likely that another defensive standoff will take place tonight when the Panthers and Colts square off at 7 p.m. at Spiegelberg Stadium?

"I think this year will be a little different," says South Medford head coach Bill Singler. "I think both teams have experienced quarterbacks and experienced skill people and both coaches seem to be a little looser in the play-calling and diving into the playbook a little more than they did last year."

While some might be concerned of a possible letdown for the Panthers (5-0, 3-0 SWC) after last week's impressive 28-20 win at then-No. 3 Roseburg, Singler says Thurston's mere presence across the field is enough to get anyone's attention.

"I told them Monday that the pats on the back are over," says the coach. "You had a great win at Roseburg and nobody in town picked you to win, but now you turn around and you have to play another top team in our league, and they're kind of a team that we're still getting to know."

In other Southwest Conference action tonight, Crater visits top-ranked Sheldon, North Medford plays at Grants Pass and No. 6 Roseburg is at South Eugene.

At the Class 5A level, Ashland and Eagle Point are both on the road at North Eugene and Springfield, respectively.

Thurston (4-1, 2-1) has passed for almost twice as many yards as it's gained running the ball, but senior tailback Trevor Westover leads the Southwest Conference in rushing at 709 yards and eight touchdowns on 108 carries. It's his pounding style that helps set up a potent passing attack guided by senior quarterback Chad Olson, who leads the SWC with 1,467 yards on 107-of-166 passing.

"They have a lot of things in their arsenal," says Singler. "They do a lot of things that get your attention. Probably, for us, the best medicine would be to keep them off the field as much as possible."

South Medford senior quarterback Jack Singler has stepped up his play this season in order to make that possible, throwing 18 touchdowns to only two interceptions. Singler has completed 79 of 117 passes for 1,245 yards and targets Matt Retzlaff (29 catches for 528 yards, eight TDs) and Adrian Garcia (26 for 453, six TDs) rank second and third, respectively, in the SWC.

Retzlaff and Garcia have gone back and forth with huge receiving games in recent weeks, with the senior Retzlaff setting school records in catches and yards gained against Crater and Garcia carving up Roseburg to the tune of 138 yards and three scores last week.

With running back Denzel Mobley third in the conference at 494 yards on 101 carries, the Panthers have their own diverse attack to throw at the Colts.

That doesn't mean Singler is interested in tonight's game being a shootout.

"With these teams, it's going to put a lot of pressure on each defense because you don't want the scoreboard lighting up," says the coach. "When you get into a track meet, those games aren't fun to try and win. They're great when you're way ahead, but when you're trying to play catchup, it's not easy."

Thurston utilizes an aggressive 4-6 defense made famous by Buddy Ryan in the NFL, with the Colts willing to relentlessly apply pressure on the backfield on each play.

"They present a lot of challenges in your preparation," says coach Singler.

CRATER AT SHELDON — Crater was able to shed some frustrations last week with a 62-7 rout of winless South Eugene and will look to use the momentum against a Sheldon squad that has lived up to its No. 1 ranking thus far.

The Irish (5-0, 3-0) lead the conference in total offense (509 yards per game) and total defense (201 ypg) and, despite putting on the brakes in the second half of most games this season, average a whopping 54 points per game.

For the Comets to have success, they'll look to utilize a running attack that has steadily kicked into gear over the past few weeks. Ty Wolf (309 yards on 51 carries), Chance Fahndrich (239 yards on 42 carries) and Garrett Alner (155 yards on 15 carries) have done the heavy lifting recently, with junior quarterback Chase Mackey always a threat to run (167 yards on 57 carries) as well as throw (44-for-75 for 576 yards).

Sheldon opened a 42-10 lead by halftime during last year's meeting en route to a 56-10 victory, and quarterback Dillon Miller returns to spearhead the attack. The senior has completed 83 of 122 passes for 1,383 yards, 16 TDs and two interceptions.

Connor Strahm leads the SWC with 548 yards on 23 receptions, with Mitch Carman (30 catches for 434 yards) providing a nice complement through the air and tailbacks Ryan Land and Mitch Lewis controlling things on the ground.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry