Friday is moving day in the SWC

South Medford's football team has certainly enjoyed its time in the spotlight following last Friday's stunning 44-22 rout of previously undefeated Grants Pass.

But as Panthers coach Bill Singler is quick to point out, the time to bask in that glory ended after Sunday's film session.

Now it's either move on or suffer the same fate of the Cavemen, who entered the game ranked No. 5 in the state thanks to a season of lopsided victories.

"We sure don't want to go up to Roseburg thinking we're fat and sassy," says Singler, whose Panthers rolled up 540 yards of total offense against the heralded GP defense.

"Once you start feeling real good about yourself, it can go south in a hurry. The team we beat (Grants Pass) found that out real quickly."

Besides, the work is far from done for No. 7-ranked South Medford — or almost anyone else in the league for that matter.

With only two weeks left in the regular season, jockeying for playoff position is coming to a head and only fifth-ranked Sheldon is in the driver's seat. The Irish (7-1 overall) have clinched one of the SWC's four state berths with their 3-0 conference record, while South Medford, Grants Pass and Roseburg are just shy of the magic number of three SWC wins needed to secure a state bid.

Friday's matchups should help clarify the playoff picture, with South Medford (5-2, 2-1 SWC) playing at Roseburg (4-3, 2-1) and Sheldon at No. 8 Grants Pass (7-1, 2-1). North Medford (2-5, 0-3) will play host to South Eugene (4-3, 0-3).

"We've won a couple big league ballgames and got thumped one time," says Roseburg coach Thurman Bell. "But just like everybody else, we've got a chance (at making the playoffs)."

Being able to control your own playoff destiny is a luxury most teams will be playing for Friday, but not one easily obtained thanks to such coin-flip matchups. Only Sheldon has shown the ability to dominate all its SWC foes, with the others exhibiting the kind of up-and-down play that has made this league so difficult to figure out.

"The thing about it, Roseburg and us were two teams that were doormats a few weeks ago," Singler says. "Now all of a sudden we're both feeling pretty good about ourselves."

The Panthers and Indians each picked up key victories last week, with Roseburg doing its part in a 24-21 road victory over a South Eugene team that was ranked in the top 10 and undefeated heading into SWC play.

"Roseburg's on the upswing, too, and they finish the season with two home games so they're in the catbird's seat as far as I'm concerned," Singler says of Friday's matchup at Finlay Field. "It's going to be up to us to keep our momentum going and keep our focus because we're going to have a helluva challenge this week in Roseburg."

The Indians have been unpredictable thus far. Roseburg hitched itself to the arm of senior quarterback Jake Johnson in the early going, but has since gone back to its more traditional power running attack behind the likes of Jordan Radford and Lucas Corder. Josh Weaver is another standout in the backfield but has been sidelined in recent weeks by a bad back.

Johnson has completed 88 of 145 passes for 1,114 yards with nine touchdowns and five interceptions. His big-play target has been senior Gideon Sharp, who has 21 receptions for 330 yards and three TDs.

Radford is averaging about 70 yards rushing per game, with Corder coming off a three-TD effort against South Eugene.

Roseburg averages almost the same amount of yards earned (279) as yards allowed (289), and has a one-point differential when it comes to scoring.

"We've just got to keep it from getting into a track meet," Bell says of Friday's game plan. "I don't know that we want to play that kind of game against South."

The Panthers rank second in total offense (363 ypg) and third in total defense (279), and lead the league in scoring at 32 points per game. In last week's win, junior tailback Patrick Thibeault rushed for a school-record 292 yards to complement an already solid passing game with A.J. Palazzolo at the helm.

Although Bell says Roseburg is as healthy as it's been all season, the Panthers are a little banged up. Junior tight end/linebacker E.J. Singler (bruised shoulder) will be a game-time decision, and starting left guard Cody Smith suffered a neck injury during Tuesday's practice. Smith's status was unavailable as of press time, but the Panthers would look to sophomores Brett Wallan, Nathan Thorton or Jake Sartain if he's unable to play.

SOUTH EUGENE AT NORTH MEDFORD — Both teams seek their first SWC win in a matchup of former coach and player. South Eugene coach Travis Johnson played two seasons at Southern Oregon University (1999 and 2000) under current North Medford coach Jeff Olson.

The Black Tornado has struggled to find an offensive personality and has gotten worn down as the game progresses, while the Axemen have hurt their own cause more than anything else down the stretch with turnovers and execution problems.

Look for South Eugene to roll out a bruising ground attack with running backs Nate Sullivan and Boseko Lokombo and quarterback Dustin Haines. The Axemen also boast a solid passing attack built of play-action, with Justin Goode (30 catches, 466 yards), Alex Coleman (25, 423) and Abe Lapite (21, 295) providing big-play threats.

North managed only 42 yards rushing last week on 24 carries, but that had more to do with Sheldon's defensive prowess. Look for the Tornado to push the envelope with quarterback Jordan Ellis and tailback Andrew Jones, who is averaging 4.4 yards per carry.

SHELDON AT GRANTS PASS — Grants Pass stubbed its toe last week against South Medford, but the Cavemen are still one of the top teams in the state and actually match up well athletically against Sheldon's read-and-react scheme.

Sophomore quarterback Jordan Johnson has been all you would want from a quarterback since the SWC slate began. Johnson's coming off a 38-10 win over North Medford in which he completed 10 of 17 passes for 164 yards and two TDs and also ran for 118 yards on 16 carries. The Cavemen had a bend but don't break mentality two weeks ago against a similar athlete in Ellis, and that experience should help on Friday.

Sheldon also boasts the SWC's top rusher in senior Zach Todd, who has amassed 993 yards on 119 carries and also hauled in 29 passes for 332 yards.

The Irish currently rank first in the league in total offense (370.8 ypg) and total defense (217.4).

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

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