South Medford’s A.J. Palazzolo is the leading passer in the Southwest Conference through two weeks of play. - Jamie Lusch

No passing fancy at South

At some point, Bill Singler would like to see his South Medford football team become a little more balanced on offense.

But when you're passing game is going as well as it has thus far for the Panthers, the running game can wait.

South Medford (1-1) enters Friday's home game against Sunset (1-2) with the leading passer in the Southwest Conference in A.J. Palazzolo and its top two receivers in E.J. Singler and Mitch Singler. Conversely, the Panthers rank last in rushing at about 60 yards per game.

"As a coach you're always trying to find a way to be balanced," says coach Singler. "If you do get too one dimensional you fight it. But we have some athletes and the kids really are going after the ball and catching the ball well so far."

Palazzolo has completed 40 of 58 passes for 503 yards, five touchdowns and only one interception. E.J. Singler has hauled in 18 of those passes for 233 yards and three scores, while cousin Mitch Singler has 11 receptions for 212 yards and three TDs.

South's reliance on the passing game has partly been determined by a still jelling offensive line, a bevy of talented receivers and, at least last week against Tualatin, on a best-option-available theory.

Facing a physically imposing defense in the Timberwolves, the Panthers and junior tailback Patrick Thibeault just weren't finding room to roam.

"Sometimes it doesn't matter what level your at, pro, college or high school," says coach Singler. "Sometimes you're just outmatched and we were outmatched a little up front. To counteract that, the Jim Nagel theory is you've got to go around them.

"I felt like we had as good or better matchups throwing the ball and it proved to be the right move because we threw the ball well and caught the ball well."

The Timberwolves used a pair of late field goals to earn a 41-38 victory last Friday in a game that surprised Singler with the level of points and total yards gained by both teams. Typically a ground-oriented squad, the Timberwolves accounted for 279 yards through the air as quarterback Levi Lavasa scrambled effectively to create big-play opportunities.

The Apollos don't stand to generate as many surprising revelations on Friday, with the Metro League squad in its second year using the high-octane fly offense.

Sunset, which lost its season opener by a touchdown to South Eugene, is averaging 30 points per contest and is coming off a 48-41 overtime victory against Sandy.

"They put some points on the board, so we know they're explosive," says Singler. "We don't want to get into another score-fest like we had last week. Those can wear on you."

In other games Friday involving Southwest Conference teams, North Medford is at No. 2 Westview, No. 8 Grants Pass (3-0) is at Marshfield (2-1), No. 7 Sheldon (2-1) is at Thurston (1-2), Roseburg (1-1) plays host to McMinnville (0-3) and South Eugene (3-0) is at Churchill (2-0).

Under the direction of fourth-year coach Mike Mitchell, Sunset's fly offense is spearheaded by junior fullback Wes Wenzel and junior quarterback Michael Verbeek.

The 5-foot-11, 192-pound Wenzel leads the Apollos with 207 yards rushing on 37 carries (5.6-yard average). Wenzel practically carried Sunset past Sandy last week, scoring five touchdowns — including the game-winner in overtime — to help fend off a rally by the Pioneers midway through the contest.

"You've got to be aware of his presence just getting the tough yards inside," says Singler.

Complementing Wenzel on the ground has been senior Kyle Shiffler (5-11, 199), who has 101 yards on 19 carries and two TDs, while Verbeek has been able to catch teams off guard by completing 15 of 41 passes for 297 yards with two TDs and one interception. Senior Michael Newell has been the Apollos' leading receiver with eight catches for 158 yards and both scores.

"They'll lull you to sleep with the fly traps and all of that and then all of a sudden the quarterback will fake and step back and throw the ball," says Singler. "I wouldn't say they're a throwing team, but they certainly have the ability to throw the ball."

All that makes it much more difficult to prepare for, considering the last thing you want are defenders flying all over the field in pursuit of a tackle.

"It's a misdirection offense and a deception offense so you're going to have to play disciplined on defense," says Singler. "You've got to be sound because if you start chasing ghosts, pretty soon someone else has the ball and they go right by you."

Singler says the Panthers will be tasked with playing "assignment-ready" on defense and doing their best to stay home, since many times the play may come back to you when you take into account all the inside reverses and traps.

"We know we have a really stern test in front of us," he says. "They'll run the ball right down your throat if you let them."

NORTH MEDFORD AT WESTVIEW — North Medford (1-1) took a big step last week with an improved performance in a 35-7 win over visiting McKay. The Black Tornado will face an even greater task on Friday when it takes to the road to face the second-ranked Wildcats (3-0), who already own a 28-7 win at SWC favorite Sheldon.

"The first time I saw them on film they reminded me size-wise and with the athleticism of a small-college team," says Tornado coach Jeff Olson of Westview. "They're a very talented, physical, fast football team and certainly well-coached."

North Medford suffered a big blow to its offense last Friday when starting tailback Jacob Colmenero went down with a knee injury. The Tornado's leading rusher underwent an MRI on Tuesday, and Olson says Colmenero definitely won't be available Friday. Considering the degree of injury and Colmenero's assessment of the injury last week, the senior potentially could be out for the season.

Senior Andrew Jones stepped in after Colmenero went down last week, but senior Quinton Walker will also move from slot receiver to tailback to help fill the void. Walker led Phoenix High in rushing last year as a tailback.

"For him personally and the team, it's not going to be really much of a transition," says Olson of the 5-8, 170-pound Walker, "but Jacob was an emotional and inspirational leader for us this year and we're going to miss that."

Junior Isaac Silafau and sophomore Matt Maurer expect to help lessen the occasional loss of Walker in the passing game, which also took a step forward thanks to a more relaxed Skyler Mlasko at quarterback. The senior completed 12 of 19 passes for 168 yards, three TDs and one interception against McKay after the Tornado scaled back its offense to ease his comfort level.

Westview relies on a mammoth offensive line and the scrambling ability of junior quarterback Josh Hill in the Wildcats' read-option offense.

Hill churned out 230 yards in total offense in a season-opening win over Skyview High of Washington, rushing 16 times for 138 yards and a score and going 9-for-16 through the air for 92 yards and one TD. Against Sheldon, Hill completed 6 of 11 passes for 58 yards with a TD and ran for another score.

Senior tailback Kaale Papas has been Westview's leading ground gainer, collecting 101 yards rushing and three scores overall against the Irish, and another 104 yards on 15 carries against Skyview.

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

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