Panthers dig in for playoff battle
There doesn’t expect to be much glitz or glamour to South Medford’s first-round clash at Newberg Friday in the Class 6A football state playoffs.
The no-nonsense Tigers, who operate out of a Wing-T formation rarely seen these days, average about eight pass attempts and four completions per game. Their bread and butter is simply driving off the ball and running it down their opponent’s throats to the tune of 45 carries for 290 yards rushing and 36 points per game.
“It’s a big challenge for us,” said South Medford head coach Bill Singler, whose team enters as a No. 20 seed against the 13th-seed Pacific Conference runners-up.
In Friday’s other 6A playoff action, 10th-seeded North Medford plays host to Reynolds at Spiegelberg Stadium.
At the 5A level, No. 2 seed Crater opens at home against Hillsboro while No. 6 Ashland is home against Dallas.
In 3A playoff openers, eighth-seeded Cascade Christian faces a stiff test against No. 9 Sutherlin at U.S. Cellular Community Park, while No. 11 St. Mary’s is at Clatskanie.
Newberg and South Medford last met in the first round of the 2016 state playoffs, with the Tigers pulling off a shocking 26-23 upset of the then-No. 3 Panthers at Spiegelberg Stadium on a 90-yard touchdown reception by Anthony Adams with 39 seconds to play.
“We’re going to have to bring our hard hats,” added Singler. “We’ve had a tough time with teams that are physical up front like Newberg is so we’re going to have to find a way to negate that through some scheme and just through aggressive play.”
Against a Wing-T attack, Singler said it’s important that his players maintain their defensive discipline and carry out their assignments against what becomes a constant lean by the offense, capable of chewing large chunks off the play clock.
“We’re going to have to roll guys in and out and play a lot of kids and keep them fresh because we just can’t have (Newberg) get in a groove maintaining ball possession,” said the coach. “The clock will wind and that makes our possessions even more critical when you don’t get the ball that much.”
South Medford (6-3) has allowed an average of 142 yards rushing and 345 overall entering the playoffs, relying on overachieving defensive linemen Justin Josephson, Nate Krupp, Nathan Rohrs, Charlie Campbell and Carson Cota to hold their ground while linebackers like James Duane, Nick Varner, Jamal Parnell and Carson Joe swoop in to provide support.
In Newberg (7-2), though, the Panthers will face one of their most punishing attacks of the season, with a pair of sophomores playing pivotal roles in 6-foot-2, 175-pound quarterback Levi Durrell and 5-9, 170-pound running back Price Pothier to complement 5-7, 180-pound senior running back Justin Holtan.
“They just keep running it at you,” said Singler, “and then they run a lot of bootleg, too, and get you on the flanks.”
Behind a physically imposing offensive line, Pothier has churned out 986 yards and 18 TDs on 157 carries, while Holtan has run for 836 yards and 12 scores on 103 carries. Durrell has been more of a facilitator for the run game and has passed for 585 yards, four TDs and four interceptions on 31-for-68 passing.
Newberg’s ground game has also received a boost from freshman Hudson Davis (5-10, 190) at 380 yards on 50 carries and sophomore Sonny Apilando (5-8, 175) at 325 yards and three TDs on 61 carries.
Junior Owen Hawley (6-3, 170) has been the Tigers’ leading receiver by far, amassing 452 yards and five scores on 21 receptions.
Hampering South Medford’s defensive cause Friday will be the loss of senior safety Rylee Heim, who suffered a head injury in last week’s loss to North Medford.
The Panthers also will be without senior playmaker Austin Boster and Mason DeVries, who had been playing on a torn ACL and aggravated his knee injury last week. Boster remains in concussion protocol after coming down awkwardly while trying to make a catch on South’s final possession and had his head bounce off the artificial turf.
DeVries scored the game-winning touchdown two weeks ago against Grants Pass, while Boster scored at least one touchdown in 18 of his final 19 games at South.
Boster finished the regular season as the SWC’s second-leading receiver with 816 yards and 13 TDs on 44 receptions.
“He’s been a one-man gang show,” said Singler of the 5-9 receiver. “He’s scored a lot of touchdowns, he’s a threat on special teams and he’s just had a great impact on our football team, obviously. He’s had a great career and it’s just too bad it has to end like this.”
“We’ve got to overcome some bumps and bruises but that’s part of the game,” added the coach. “One good thing is we do have some skill kids in our program and some guys that are waiting for an opportunity. We’re going to have to see kids like Mitch Walker, Carson Cota and Trey Alvarez step up even more.”
Walker played a key role in the passing game two weeks ago and has 19 receptions for 211 yards and two TDs, while Alvarez has 22 catches for 260 yards and four scores and Cota boasts 22 catches for 287 yards and two TDs.
The Panthers also hope to make up for the loss with the return of a pair of backfield threats in Joe, whose lead-blocking was missed last week, and sophomore Brycen Guches, who averaged 8.1 yards per carry in two games before being injured four weeks ago.
Senior quarterback Toren Tuttle has spearheaded a South Medford offense that has averaged 345 yards and 26 points per game.
With a great deal of help from Boster, Tuttle finished the regular season ranked second in SWC passing with 1,826 yards, 21 TDs and nine interceptions (four against North Medford). He completed 61 percent of his passes and leads the Panthers in rushing with 382 yards and six TDs.
“I feel good about our offense,” said Singler. “Even in the North game I thought at times we really moved the ball and did a good job against a really good football team, but we were our own worst enemy with a couple untimely penalties that really hurt our drives.”
“We’re going to have to be very efficient,” he added of Friday’s game, “and we’ve got to find a way to run the ball effectively and, without Austin, find a way to make a big play or two.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry