Panthers aim to build off opener
Consistency has been a staple of the South Medford football program under head coach Bill Singler, so when posed with the question of how his team would be able to follow last week’s stunning win at Sunset, Singler said the focus all week has been on simply doing more of the same tonight.
With ninth-ranked Lake Oswego set to square off against the Panthers at 7 p.m. at Spiegelberg Stadium, that task definitely won’t be an easy one.
“They always have been one of the top three teams in the state, year in and year out,” said Singler of the Lakers. “They’re physical, very well-coached, disciplined and sound. Offensively they’re not going to beat themselves and defensively they swarm to the ball.”
In tonight’s other games involving Southwest Conference programs, fifth-ranked North Medford plays at No. 7 Canby while No. 10 Grants Pass plays host to Newberg.
In 5A action, second-ranked Ashland is at home against Dallas, while Eagle Point hosts Redmond and Crater, which moved just outside the top 10 in the 5A rankings, plays at Paradise, Calif.
In a marquee 3A matchup tonight, Cascade Christian plays Pleasant Hill at 7 at U.S. Cellular Community Park.
Tonight’s game at Spiegelberg Stadium only adds to a series with Lake Oswego (1-0) that has seen the Lakers own the upper hand but not without a few games coming down to the wire. The Lakers are coming off a 21-14 win over Southridge, proving that the suspension of 10 players — including nine probable starters — prior to the season has only served to raise the resolve of Steve Coury’s squad.
“I told Steven when I saw him last that his (No. 2 players) will probably play harder than the No. 1s because they don’t want to have those guys come back and take their jobs,” said Singler. “I think that’s what we saw against Southridge, they dominated to go up 21-0.”
The missing players were suspended four games for violating the school district’s athletic code of conduct at an all-senior team retreat Aug. 15-17.
Lake Oswego turned to its hefty offensive line and a potent running game to overwhelm the Skyhawks early, with running back Max Mattern rushing 20 times for 122 yards and one touchdown to key a ground game that helped put together scoring drives of 19 and 13 plays during the first half. Zach Parker capped two of the scoring drives with TD receptions of 12 and 14 yards from quarterback Mitchell Verburg.
“They just kind of nickel and dime you and lull you to sleep and sooner or later they’ve got a 15-play scoring drive going,” said Singler. “We know we have our hands full but this is why we schedule teams like this. I respect Steve Coury so much and have known him so long, we always want to play each other because we just know we’re going to have a good game and come away with a good experience. For us especially, it’s going to tell us a lot about who we are.”
South Medford (1-0) put forth a complete effort in opening with a 47-28 win at Sunset last week, with senior quarterback Craig Contreras extremely efficient through the air — completing 15 of 18 passes for 337 yards, five TDs and one interception — to complement a steady run game and opportunistic defense.
The win allowed the Panthers to improve to 11-4 in season openers since 2000 and was aided by a defense that created three turnovers in the first half to help build a comfortable cushion. Senior safety Nate Brammer recovered a pair of fumbles, while senior cornerback Nick Henry intercepted a pass to squash another Sunset drive.
“All in all we got to the first game and were mentally and physically fresh and you could see it,” said Singler. “I thought we created the turnovers, it’s not like they gave us turnovers. We created them with good hard tackling and a good play on the ball for the interception. You’ve got to give a lot of credit to our defense and (defensive coordinator) Brandon Boice. He’s brought a real sense of enthusiasm.”
Defensive line play by Makai Manuwai, Will Cooney and Foley Wheeler helped set the tone for the defense, along with good tackling by seniors Kody Burton and Blake Snyder among a host of contributors.
Offensively, Contreras was in sync with a receiving corps that produced big efforts by Brayden Massey (five catches, 198 yards, two TDs), David Garcia (four catches, 54 yards, two TDs) and Chase Cota (three catches, 63 yards, one TD).
The best part of the 507-yard team output was the balance provided by the running attack. Senior Hudson Thomas rushed for 133 yards and one TD on 21 carries, while Manuwai averaged 3.6 yards per carry and also scored a TD.
NORTH MEDFORD AT CANBY: Canby became the first team to shut out Roseburg in six seasons with last week’s 24-0 win at Roseburg, and was one of the three teams that was able to beat Sheldon last season.
Canby’s strength on defense last week came from line cornerstones Jordan Kahut and Tony Kraus, who were complemented by linebackers Jake Holbrook (three sacks), Jace Cates and Nick Huggins.
Offensively, Cates rushed for 101 yards and two TDs on 15 carries, while senior Devon Fortier, who has moved from running back to quarterback, completed 4 of 6 passes for 125 yards — highlighted by an 87-yard TD connection with Josh Payne. Fortier, who won last year’s 6A 200-meter state title, is also a big threat to run.
North Medford left last week’s 41-31 win over Fortuna (Calif.) with mixed feelings.
An offense spearheaded by quarterback Troy Fowler and running back Nick Janakes was prolific at times, with Fowler completing 14 of 20 passes for 223 yards and three TDs and Janakes rumbling for 93 yards and two scores on 18 carries.
Defensively, however, Fortuna was able to capitalize on the absence of senior lineman Jeremy Sparks to use its veer attack to amass 249 yards on the ground in 49 attempts. Keeping Canby from dominating time of possession will be a key, with linemen Tre Holmes and Dalton Ireland expected to hold their ground to allow linebackers Edmund Polataivao, Janakes and Isaac Grether to swoop in and clean everything up.
North Medford head coach Mike Mitchell has said tonight’s game against Canby will provide a quality measuring stick for his program as it begins defense of the Southwest Conference title.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry