Patrick Thibeault of South Medford (24) scores one of his three touchdowns as Roseburg’s Aaron Resco makes the tackle in their Southwest Conference matchup Friday. - Jamie Lusch

Many happy returns

Bill Singler has accomplished many things since taking over the South Medford football program in 1998, but beating Roseburg at Spiegelberg Stadium wasn't one of them heading into Friday night.

In fact, no one dressed in a South Medford uniform had even entered kindergarten the last time the Panthers beat Roseburg in Medford.

But armed with a ball-hawking defense and a steady running attack anchored by senior Patrick Thibeault, No. 3-ranked South Medford snapped a 13-year drought with a convincing 41-7 victory over the Indians.

In the process, the Panthers also clinched a berth in the state playoffs for the sixth time in the past seven years and will look to secure their first-ever Southwest Conference championship next Friday when No. 9 Sheldon comes to town.

South Medford (8-1, 4-0 SWC) holds a one-game lead over the Irish and Grants Pass heading into the regular-season finale.

"It's going to be a fun one next week," said Singler, whose Panthers have beaten the Indians three straight times in Roseburg.

South Medford's last win here over Roseburg came in a 6-0 showing in 1994, but Friday's game didn't carry with it the same drama.

The Panthers forced and recovered three fumbles on Roseburg's first four possessions, and the Indians were intercepted on their next two outings to finish with five turnovers in the first half.

It was so bad for Roseburg (2-7, 1-3 SWC) that the only time the Indians didn't turn the ball over in the first half, sophomore Josh Havird returned a Dakota Cavens punt 64 yards to give South possession at the Indians' 2-yard line.

"Five turnovers ... we haven't done that," said Roseburg coach Thurman Bell, still puzzled by the turn of events well after the final whistle. "We were just kind of our own worst enemy."

"Maybe they were punching them out, I don't know," he added. "I don't know how to explain it."

Roseburg had actually marched 59 yards to the South 14-yard line on a nice opening drive before coughing the ball up when senior Daniel Kinney blitzed and Indians quarterback Thaddeus Davis never saw him. Kinney's hit dislodged the ball and Brett Wallan pounced on it at the South 22.

The Panthers couldn't capitalize and had to give the ball back to Roseburg, but came up big again on the ensuing drive when Joe Hennricks tried to pound through the middle on a fourth-and-one carry but had the ball knocked out and into Kinney's hands at the South 35.

Thibeault touched the ball on four of the next five plays, the last coming on a happy-footed 53-yard touchdown run to open the second quarter.

South held Roseburg without a first down on its next drive, but Cavens outkicked his coverage on a 45-yard effort and Havird eased his way down the sideline to put the Panthers in prime scoring position at the 2. Thibeault bulled over from the 1 three plays later to give South a 14-0 lead.

Two plays later, the ball was back in the Panthers' hands after Josh Weaver couldn't get a handle on an option pitch and Sam McLaughlin beat him to the loose ball at the Roseburg 18-yard line.

Four plays later, Thibeault tacked on a powerful 4-yard touchdown run to put the Indians further back on their heels down 21-0.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior finished with 147 yards rushing on 21 carries to complement his three scores on a night when the Panthers didn't have the services of wide receiver/safety E.J. Singler, among others.

"Like Bill says, programs don't win with players they win with a team," said Thibeault. "I think that's what we really did tonight. We knew we had to step up because we had a lot of key players out on offense and defense."

Havird pulled down an interception on Roseburg's fifth possession and Cameron Kynard got into the act with an interception after the Indians forced South's lone turnover of the night on a pick by Matt Thomson just past midfield.

"I thought our kids really came out ready to play," Bill Singler said. "It was the first time since Grants Pass that we really came out of the gate and took control of the game."

South managed to stretch its 21-0 halftime lead on the opening possession of the second half, using a fake punt by Milhollin and subsequent 20-yard gainer to Kinney to spark a stagnant passing game to that point.

Milhollin connected on a beautiful 28-yard pass to Mitch Singler on the next play for a touchdown and duplicated the effort on the Panthers' next possession after another sack by Kinney halted a Roseburg drive.

"We told him at halftime if Mitch is going to be covered one-on-one sometimes, let's see how fast he is and let him run under a ball or two," said coach Singler of Milhollin, who was only 2-for-7 for 11 yards at that point. "Josh did (in the third quarter) and that was great to see and I know that will boost his confidence."

Milhollin completed 6 of 14 passes overall for 94 yards and the two TD strikes to Mitch Singler, who had three catches for 67 yards.

Roseburg's lone score came with 7:39 to play when Davis dumped a pass to fullback Lucas Corder and the junior made a great cut on the play to elude the defense for a 19-yard score.

South answered with a 14-play, 63-yard drive, with sophomore Kevin Gilmore notching all 24 of his rushing yards on a drive kept alive by a pair of first-down runs by fellow sophomore Jordon Townsend. Gilmore's 3-yarder up the middle capped the drive with 25.5 seconds to play.

South compiled 222 yards on the ground for 316 overall, and limited Roseburg to 247 yards of total offense — 80 of which came on the Indians' final drive. Hennricks had 82 yards on 10 carries for the Indians, while Davis completed 6 of 12 passes for 90 yards.

"The plan was to run the ball at them because we thought they'd be expecting us to throw it a bunch," said Bell. "We thought we needed to dominate the clock, but you can't do that if you turn the ball over."

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

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