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No. 3 South Medford pushes past GP

For holding a 16-0 lead at halftime, there wasn't much pep in the step for the third-ranked South Medford Panthers when they headed to the locker room Friday night at Spiegelberg Stadium.

South Medford had just held visiting Grants Pass to two first downs and 26 yards of total offense through two quarters, but a listless feeling definitely accompanied such dominance — and that simply was unacceptable, for the Panthers or head coach Bill Singler.

"The first half was pretty calm and I think we were a little bit too relaxed," said South Medford senior Matt Retzlaff. "We were playing a little bit too comfortable and Bill in the locker room made it clear what needed to be done in the second half and we took his coaching and just made our best effort out on the field."

As has been the case throughout the season, Retzlaff took it upon himself to spearhead that effort in the opening moments of the third quarter and went on to spark the Panthers to a 46-0 rout.

The 5-foot-11 standout hauled in a pass from Jack Singler and shoved away two potential tacklers en route to a 66-yard touchdown to boost South's morale, then set the stadium rocking with his second score in 20 seconds when he intercepted a Ben Geith pass and returned it 35 yards.

And just that quick, the game's outcome was a foregone conclusion with just 1:54 gone in the third quarter.

"Being able to keep it 16-zip at halftime was important and I thought we had momentum at that time and then they came back with those big plays and that kinda broke our back," said Grants Pass head coach John Musser.

"The bread and butter of our defense is bend but don't break and that really hurt us giving up a couple of those big plays," he added.

The Panthers added their second special teams safety of the game moments later when Anthony Gomez blocked a Zach Ward punt through the end zone, then tacked on a 32-yard connection from Singler to Retzlaff and a 56-yard scoring run by Christian Bowley to close out the contest.

"I'm really proud how the kids responded, especially the second half," said coach Singler.

South Medford improved to 7-0 overall and 5-0 in Southwest Conference play by notching its 11th victory in the last 12 meetings against the Cavemen (2-5, 1-4). For Retzlaff, however, there was little time to savor Friday's victory.

"There wasn't too much energy tonight and that's something we'll work on definitely going into these next two weeks," said the senior leader, who had six receptions for 162 yards and two TDs. "We have South Eugene and Sheldon and we've definitely got to bring each other together and regroup."

The Panthers limited Grants Pass to four first downs and 103 yards of total offense, and also came alive offensively in the final two quarters to finish with 214 of their 390 yards via the running game.

"Nothing going, nothing," said Musser of his team's offensive struggles. "That was a butt-whoopin' up front. Our offensive line and our defensive line got worked."

Bowley finished with touchdown runs of 6, 9 and 56 yards en route to a clean 100 yards on 11 carries, while starting tailback Denzel Mobley had 106 yards on 19 carries. The return of left tackle Desmond Harrington gave South a boost, with guards D.J. McGinnis and Alex Hathaway and center Jimmy Ditty also having strong showings.

"That was what we tried to concentrate on this week, was really play well up front on both sides of the ball and let's see if we can capture the line of scrimmage," said coach Singler. "We knew it was going to be tough because Grants Pass always plays well, especially defensively."

On this night, however, it was the Panther defense that stood firm. Save for a 35-yard run by Logan Dean that put Grants Pass deep in South Medford territory, the Cavemen failed to threaten the scoreboard. Four plays after Dean's run, Geith was intercepted in the end zone by Adrian Garcia on a second-and-goal play from the Panther 1-yard line with 1:33 to go in the third.

Linebacker Pat Alexander was a key figure in the Panthers' defensive effort, reaching double figures in tackles in an inspired effort as South played without standout linebacker Kirk Eastman. Gomez and Joel Goin also played well in Eastman's absence.

"Knowing Kirk was going to be out this week with his ankle I knew I had to step up so I studied film a little bit extra and tried to fill in for Kirk," said Alexander, "and Joel did a great job stepping in for his first varsity start."

After Bowley scored on South's first possession, Grants Pass had its Achilles' heel rise up and bite it again with sloppy special teams play. The snap on a fourth-and-11 punt from the GP 14-yard line sailed over Ward's head and he was forced to simply slap the ball out of the end zone for a safety to avoid further damage.

"Our special teams has killed us this year," said Musser. "It's really tough to play a complete football game when we put ourselves in a hole like that."

Bowley's second TD of the first quarter followed to make it 16-0, but the Cavemen kept the Panthers relatively in check for a sluggish second quarter and were able to get good pressure on Singler. The senior quarterback was only 5-for-8 for 63 yards in the first half but returned to finish 9-for-13 for 176 yards and two scores.

"They're so dang explosive on offense, they can score from anywhere," added Musser. "We thought putting that pressure on Jack early kept us in the game and Bill countered with keeping two backs in the game and that took away some of our aggressiveness up front on their pass stuff."

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

South Medford's Matt Retzlaff, right, avoids a tackle attempts by Grants Pass' Stephen Partin during Friday's game. - Julia Moore