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South Medford seizing second season opportunity

After placing third in SWC, Panthers open playoffs Friday at Summit

Given the loss of 23 seniors, most of whom were starters, and a daunting schedule with top-10 programs seemingly around every turn, South Medford football coach Bill Singler entered the fall campaign realistic.

“We weren’t even talking playoffs, to be honest with you,” said Singler, in his 24th season at the helm. “That wasn’t really even a discussion.”

As one loss added to another, the Panthers merely remained focused on the task at hand of getting better with each week.

It really wasn’t until the middle of last week that Singler and company considered that, with a win over North Medford in the regular-season finale, South Medford would finish third in the Southwest Conference and automatically advance into the Class 6A state playoffs for the 15th straight season dating back to 2007.

And sure enough, positive strides against the likes of Lake Oswego, Lakeridge, Sheldon and Roseburg paved the way for a big finish as the Panthers built a 40-20 advantage on the Black Tornado and held on for a 40-34 victory one week ago to tie up the Black and Blue Bowl series at 18 games apiece.

“We can’t rest on our laurels, obviously,” said Singler. “Our finish in the league says we’ve earned (a playoff bid) so here we are and the kids are excited to go and play another game. We’re certainly going to coach them up and give it our best effort.”

“Finishing third in this league, especially this year, is not a bad effort in itself,” he added. “Now we’ve got new life, so hopefully we can go take advantage of it.”

South Medford (2-7) will travel to face sixth-seeded Summit in Bend at 7 p.m. Friday in the first round of the state playoffs.

The Storm (7-2) finished just outside the top-10 in the final 6A coaches poll at No. 12 and were runner-up in the Mountain Valley Conference to West Salem. Summit’s defense ranks fifth in the state at 10.8 points allowed per game, with an offense that is averaging 26.4 points per game.

“What strikes me a lot is their defense,” said Singler of the Storm. “They’re only giving up about 12 points per game, and they’ve played some pretty good people if you look at their schedule. That’s a concern. We have our work cut out for us offensively, because we’re not going to win the game only scoring 12 points, I don’t believe.”

“We’re going to have to find ways to get the ball in the end zone again this week,” added the coach, “and defensively we’ve got to come up with another game plan like we had against North because we don’t want to get into a scoring fest on the road like that. Those games are hard to win.”

The battle-tested Panthers were able to put forth an extremely efficient offensive showing last week, scoring touchdowns on their opening four possessions to build a cushion on North and then two of their first four series in the second half.

“We really harped on playing well early on both sides of the ball and special teams, and we couldn’t ask for any better start offensively,” said Singler of last week’s win.

At the heart of that effort was an ever-developing offensive line that stood up well against the bigger and more experienced Black Tornado.

“I was really proud of how the line, in the run game as well as pass protection, played for us,” said Singler. “I thought they really stepped up when we needed it, especially in the first half when it was really important that we got off to a good start.”

That steady push allowed junior quarterback Deacon Edgar to dial in a proficient passing attack, while giving room for running back Carson Joe to run for three touchdowns to complement a key early burst by fellow senior Brycen Guches in the running and passing games.

“He came out like gangbusters that first quarter,” Singler said of Guches. “It was the Brycen Guches show early on, and we certainly needed everything he did.”

Joe has run for 354 yards on 99 carries with eight TDs, while Guches has been a steady dual-threat option at 3.9 yards per carry to go with 22 catches for 270 yards.

Against North, Edgar was nearly flawless, finishing 11-for-13 for 255 yards, and found welcome targets at every turn, with consecutive touchdown passes to juniors Ty Henry and Andrew Walker and senior Colton Samis to close out the first half up 27-13.

For the season, Edgar has completed 55% of his passes (88-for-161) for 1,407 yards with 11 TDs and six interceptions. He has also run for 378 yards and five TDs, while Walker finished second in the SWC with 568 yards receiving on 23 catches with three TDs.

Samis enters the playoffs with 17 catches for 231 yards and four TDs, while Henry has averaged 15 yards per catch with two scores.

“Deacon made some great reads and our kids caught the ball with some nice throws and catches,” said Singler. “Everybody at the skill positions touched the football in that game and had a big contribution. All of our skill guys contributed, every one of them. It wasn’t like one guy who was making all the plays. It was a total team effort. That game had to be a total team effort and it ended up being that on special teams, offense and defense.”

Mired by incomplete efforts that led to long scores by its opponents, South Medford’s defense buckled down last week and allowed North to hit on only one 35-plus yard play in the contest, and that came in the waning seconds.

Forced fumbles by Arik Parker and Gio Livingston recovered by Guches and Isaack Valdez, respectively, snuffed out potential scoring drives by North, and a diving interception by senior Asher Johnson gave South the ball back with a short field after the Tornado had closed within 27-20 in the third quarter.

“Boy what a great interception that was by Asher Johnson,” said Singler. “He was lined up clear on the other side of the field and then when the quarterback (Mason Warren) sprinted out to the right, he just chased and got underneath that thing to (Bryce Dyer). That was the hallmark play of his career. That was a great football play that he made, and it sure came at a great time when North was trying to put a run on us.”

The Panthers boosted their takeaways to 14 overall last week and will need more of the same Friday to slow a Summit offense spearheaded by junior quarterback Hogan Carmichael (6-5, 195), running backs Ryan Powell (5-10, 175, senior) and Chip Allers (6-3, 215, sophomore) and a host of receivers.

Have a story idea? Reach sports editor Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

South Medford's Andrew Walker breaks a tackle to make it down the sideline for a score during last Friday’s Black and Blue Bowl against North Medford. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune