It was no surprise to No. 3-ranked South Medford that the 30th-seeded Newberg Tigers would come into Spiegelberg Stadium and put up quite a fight in the opening round of the Class 6A football state playoffs Friday.
What was a surprise, however, was what Newberg was able to pull off with its back to the wall in the final minute of the tense contest.
Facing a fourth-and-20, the Tigers used one last gasp to try and shock the state … and made it happen.
Newberg senior Anthony Adams leapt between two Panther defenders to haul in a pass that would’ve given his team a first down right there but, with no one else nearby, he turned upfield, gained a slight block from Byron Morris and raced into playoff lore with a 90-yard, go-ahead touchdown with 39 seconds to play.
South Medford advanced past midfield after that but couldn’t answer with its own bit of magic, and time ran out on what had been a banner season in which it earned its second Southwest Conference championship.
With the 26-23 comeback victory, Newberg (4-6) advanced to the second round and will play Tigard, while the Panthers (7-3) suffered their fourth straight first-round exit.
“They just made more plays than we did when it comes down to it, so you’ve got to tip your hat to them from that standpoint,” said South Medford head coach Bill Singler. “It was a great win for them and a tough loss for us.”
“We told these kids it was going to be a 48-minute battle, and it certainly was,” added Singler. “You could see it on tape, we knew they had some athletes and some key people to make plays and we got off to obviously a shaky start and that gave them some momentum.”
Adams intercepted Panthers junior quarterback Robbie Patterson on the first drive of the night and then later scored on a 31-yard keeper to give Newberg a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Another interception by Hutton Peterson on South’s next drive led to a 35-yard TD run by Michael Tarakhchyan, and suddenly the Tigers found themselves with a 13-0 lead and sky-high expectations of an upset.
South Medford settled down from there and tied the game 13-all by halftime behind Patterson touchdown passes of 18 yards to Jaylin Parnell and 25 yards to Kaleb Franklin.
It was tough sledding all night for both teams, but the Panthers were able to tack on the only touchdown of the third quarter when Jaalen Owens took a swing pass from Patterson 28 yards for South Medford’s first lead, 20-13, with 8:24 to go in the third quarter.
Owens added a 26-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter and, when Mauka Manuwai intercepted a Myers pass deep in Panther territory with nine minutes to play, it seemed as if South Medford might escape the first round.
That 10-point deficit was trimmed on Newberg’s next drive when Myers found Adams for a 14-yard score with 3:18 to play.
South moved the chains a little afterward but a costly holding penalty cut into its chances to run out the clock, leaving the Panthers to punt the ball away with 1:29 to go.
South Medford junior Evan Dallas then crashed through for a sack of Myers at the 5-yard line, but the ball was placed at the 10 in the confusion. After two incompletions — the second one bouncing in and out of the hands of Jaron Emerson for what could’ve been his second interception of the game — Newberg turned to Adams.
“That’s the game ... the ball takes funny bounces,” said Singler. “A lot of their bounces went their way tonight.”
Myers, who was bumped up from backup QB midway through the second quarter, dropped back, lofted a pass toward the speedy 6-foot-1 senior, and Adams made the Panthers pay.
“That’s all on (Myers),” said Adams. “He knew I was an athlete and I knew I could go make that play and I got a great block from Byron Morris and that play was great.”
“As soon as I made the catch I knew I was going to score,” added Adams, who is being recruited by Oregon State and others at safety. “There was no way I wasn’t going to score. That’s all it came down to.”
And essentially, that’s what South Medford’s dream season came down to.
“You can’t ask for much more than that,” Singler said of Newberg being pinned deep on fourth down. “They threw it to their best guy and their best guy made a play and we didn’t. We’ll look back at it obviously and say what if and why didn’t we do that because you always second guess yourself as a coach.”
Despite battling a hip flexor that kept him out of practice all week, Parnell ran 13 times for 93 yards while Patterson completed 15 of 22 passes for 140 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
“They were just really physical and they didn’t come to give up,” said Patterson. “They just came down here and gave us a game and they made some more plays than we did and ended up on top.”
Adams finished with 11 carries for 107 yards and three catches for 114 yards to account for most of Newberg’s 381 yards, while Tarakhchyan ran seven times for 67 yards and caught two balls for 43. Myers completed 6 of 11 passes for 173 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“This is the best feeling I’ve ever felt in my entire life,” said Adams. “This is the feeling that us as seniors have wanted since eighth grade. We’ve been pushing for it and haven’t gotten our results, but tonight showed just how good we are. We just knocked off the No. 3 team in the state. Unbelievable.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry