Comets look to slow No. 5 Panthers

CENTRAL POINT — If last year was Denzel Mobley's coming out party for South Medford, Crater will be looking to put the gift back in the box Friday night when the Comets venture to Spiegelberg Stadium.

Pressed into action due to an injury to starting tailback Kevin Gilmore, Mobley came off the bench to surpass his entire season rushing total in the first half alone and finished with 122 yards on 18 carries in playing a vital role in South Medford's 28-6 road victory.

The effort was especially enjoyable for Mobley, who had grown up watching his older brother Dario excel for the Comets.

Given a second chance at the fleet-footed Panther, Crater will look to lock him down and, in turn, hopefully lock down South Medford's driving force to an offense that has generated 425 yards and 47 points per game through three weeks.

"I don't know if it's necessarily a priority to stop him, it's a priority just to play solid and run to the football," says Crater head coach John Beck. "I think we're better defensively than we were last year, we've just got to have consistent effort."

Friday's clash marks the third straight week No. 5-ranked South Medford will play on its home turf at Spiegelberg, and the Panthers will be looking to remain unbeaten as they enter with a 1-0 Southwest Conference mark and 3-0 record overall. Crater (2-1, 0-1 SWC) opened like gangbusters with wins over McNary and McMinnville before falling 46-27 to Thurston last week.

"I know Crater has a salty taste in their mouth after the Thurston game and they're going to want to come in here and play well," says South Medford head coach Bill Singler. "We know that we're going to get their best shot so we have to be prepared every game now in the league to play well. There's a lot of good teams in our league right now, and Crater's one of them."

In Friday's other SWC matchups, North Medford is at South Eugene, Grants Pass is host to top-ranked Sheldon and No. 3 Roseburg plays at Thurston.

In Class 5A Midwestern League action, Ashland and Eagle Point also face home contests against No. 9 Willamette and Marshfield, respectively.

In Mobley, the Comets face an explosive running threat that ranks second in the SWC with 416 yards and five touchdowns on 73 carries. He entered last year's game against Crater with 57 yards rushing on eight carries and went on to gain 84 yards and a TD on his first eight carries against the Comets.

"Hopefully it's going to be the same and he's going to run the ball tough and hopefully carry us," says South senior quarterback Jack Singler. "We've just got to have the right mentality this week because it's not going to be easy. We're going to have to come out and play our best."

The Panthers boast more offensive threats than just Mobley, and that's why Beck says his team can't get too caught up in focusing its attention on the backfield.

"They've got a great front and Bill does a really good job of getting those kids comfortable and letting those kids make the plays like Matt (Retzlaff) and Denzel," says the coach. "They're real efficient, real solid."

Jack Singler was at his best during last week's 56-0 win over North Medford, completing 12 of 15 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns. He was right on target throughout the night and was helped by the sure-handed efforts of Retzlaff, Adrian Garcia and Max Farthing. Retzlaff (15 catches for 263 yards, five TDs) and Garcia (14 for 230, two TDs) rank fifth and sixth, respectively, among SWC receivers.

Some coverage miscues proved costly for Crater last week against the Colts, and Beck says the Comets will need to be on top of their game if they're going to slow the Panthers.

"We've got to play hard and consistent and we have to execute," says the coach. "It's no secret in this league, the team that makes the least mistakes comes out ahead."

That should bode well for the Panthers, who have a plus-13 turnover ratio, but coach Singler says nothing can be taken for granted in the SWC.

"They're just a better team all around," he says of the Comets. "We know that they're going to give us a big test defensively just based on how well they've moved the ball this year."

Crater is averaging 401 yards and 43 points entering the contest, led by quarterback Chase Mackey and a host of breakaway threats in tailback Ty Wolf and receivers Cole Berriochoa, Kory Bennett and Corey Wynant.

Part of Crater's problem last week involved an inability to get the ball to players like Berriochoa, who had the ball in his hands once, and tight end Derrick Turituri, who didn't get a touch at all.

"We're going to try to get the ball to our playmakers a little more this week," says Beck.

Mackey endured his first hiccup to the season last week with one interception and 42 yards passing against Thurston, but has completed 26 of 45 passes for 394 yards and four TDs overall. The junior is also a prime weapon when he takes off and runs.

Although only a sophomore, Bennett has been one of the most consistent Comets and ranks among the leaders in the SWC in receiving (11 catches for 183 yards, three TDs) and rushing (11 carries for 101 yards, two TDs).

Last year, Crater had only 10 plays from scrimmage in the first half and finished with only four first downs, 43 yards rushing and 38 yards passing against the Panthers.

NORTH MEDFORD AT SOUTH EUGENE — Something has to give considering both teams enter Friday's game winless in conference play and overall.

Both teams are coming off 56-0 losses to intra-city rivals, combining for 11 turnovers and 1,025 yards allowed against Sheldon and South Medford.

The Axemen boast a young roster that has been outscored on average 50-6 but likely will be energized by playing in front of their home crowd on Friday. The Black Tornado's numbers aren't any better — ranking last in the SWC at a 54-5 clip — but North's losses have all come against top-10 teams Lakeridge, Mountain View and South Medford.

"They're a struggling football team just like we are," says first-year North coach Nate Becksted. "I think they're pretty athletic but they haven't played the three football teams that we've played."

The Black Tornado has showed some big-play ability with connections from quarterback Zach Tanner to Darren Cossette, Jordan Browne-Moore, Mario Saldana and Trey Garfas.

The running game has been a work in progress but Becksted says he expects to work that phase in more and more to help balance the attack. Evan Hisey ran hard for 45 yards on 12 carries against the Panthers and combines with Charlie Walker to provide a powerful force in the backfield.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

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