Panthers show they have plenty left in reserve

Typically when a starting player goes down to injury, another player slides right in and you cross your fingers there won't be too much of a drop off in execution.

When South Medford junior E.J. Singler suffered a bruised left shoulder 61/2 minutes into last Friday's football game against then-No. 5 Grants Pass, one reserve player couldn't suffice. In fact, it took four players to handle Singler's chores as a tight end, outside linebacker and punter.

"It was just one of those things," said South Medford coach Bill Singler. "We just didn't have one guy that really could go in and fulfill all those roles that E.J. plays."

And while it may have taken a few more players than normal to fill the bill, the amazing part is that the Panthers didn't really miss a beat against the Cavemen en route to a 44-22 victory.

When it came to punting, sophomore Josh Milhollin stepped up to average a respectable 33.5 yards on four attempts.

When the call was made for a tight end formation on offense, senior Griff Boyd performed well on his blocking assignments and hauled in the only pass that came his way for an 8-yard gain.

Defensively, juniors Ryan Retzlaff and Sam McLaughlin effectively applied pressure to GP quarterback Zach Morgan and made the tackle when the opportunity was there.

"We've instilled in our kids, at any sport, there's always going to be somebody nicked up, and when that happens, you've got to be ready to get in there and give the same effort the starter is giving," said coach Singler. "A couple of those kids really seized their moment (on Friday). It was really pleasing to see kids that have had some success at the JV level come in and do such a good job."

A lot went into the success of the replacements, most notably the dedication each has shown during practice.

But Friday's effort also involved a little bit of luck, especially considering the junior varsity responsibilities for Milhollin and Retzlaff. Both had played two quarters in the Panthers' win over the JV Cavemen on Thursday and, therefore, were available for only three quarters Friday.

Fortunately for South, Milhollin's services weren't needed until the second quarter so the team dodged a bullet there and he was able to finish the game.

Retzlaff, however, was forced into duty in the first quarter so South could spell McLaughlin. Besides handling the kickoff and placekicking duties, McLaughlin was also at fullback in the Panthers' two-back set.

"We couldn't put just one guy in there because we kind of wanted to rest Sam a little bit for the offense," said coach Singler. "But every week Ryan's been getting better and better, and he was really ready to play varsity. He stepped in and did a great job, and that really helped us with Sam."

No matter who took the field, though, the Panthers' defenders rallied around one another for one of their best efforts of the season. D.J. Titus, Brett Wallan, Zach Barge, Michael Harthun, John Adamson ... the list goes on and on of South players making it easier for Retzlaff and McLaughlin.

The Panthers limited GP to about 90 yards less than it is used to offensively, and some of that credit has to go to the intensity E.J. Singler displayed early in the game.

"There's no question he was on his way to an incredible game," Bill Singler said of his nephew. "He was really dominating them before he got hurt."


NO TALK OF DOMINATION would be complete, however, without discussing the play of the Panthers' offensive line on Friday. The unsung heroes of any offense, linemen usually work in the shadows to propel their team to victory.

But South's crew immediately stepped into the limelight Friday as it paved the way for a record rushing performance by junior tailback Patrick Thibeault. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder carried 29 times for a school-record 292 yards, displaying speed, agility and power.

But none of Thibeault's moves Friday showed more quickness than his deference to left tackle Rodolpho Contreras, left guard Cody Smith, center Eric Henneman, right guard Cody Meuser and right tackle Anthony Grieve.

"They were amazing tonight," said Thibeault, who bested Corey Falls' record of 273 yards rushing against Ashland in 1990. "There were holes everywhere, and my fullback, Sam McLaughlin, was breaking up the isolation almost every play."

The Panther linemen were proven pass-blockers heading into the GP game, but hadn't really learned how to play with a low pad level for their run blocking until Friday.

"We thought it would be tough sledding going against a team like Grants Pass that was undefeated and had all the accolades as the No. 2 team in total defense in the state behind Jesuit," said Bill Singler. "But our offensive line just came of age. It just seemed as the game went on they got more and more confident. And when you get that confidence, it just seems like you play better because of it."

Meuser, Henneman and Grieve are seniors, while Contreras and Smith are juniors. The linemen average only 223 pounds, with Meuser topping the charts at 6-2, 260 pounds.

FOR A GLIMPSE AT potential South Medford and North Medford football stars, the annual Black & Maroon Bowl between the McLoughlin Bulldogs and Hedrick Hornets will be played at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Spiegelberg Stadium.

Mark Losinski is the head coach of the McLoughlin eighth-graders and is assisted by Duke Mondale. Dan Keck guides Hedrick's eighth-grade crew with the help of assistant Vince Keys.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail

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