Panthers have all eyes on Roseburg

For all that third-ranked South Medford has accomplished thus far, nothing is more important to the Panthers these days than finishing the regular season in strong fashion.

The table has been set to put South Medford in prime position for its first-ever Southwest Conference football title, but all that could come crashing down with a slip-up Friday when Thurman Bell's Roseburg Indians come to town.

"It's a one-game season because all the games are important now as you position for playoffs or league championships or whatever," says South Medford coach Bill Singler.

Throughout this week at practice, the Panthers (7-1, 3-0 SWC) have been made completely aware of the fact that, to date, nothing has truly been accomplished.

"Our coaches prepare us really well with that," says South Medford quarterback Josh Milhollin. "They make us believe that our next game is our most important game, so Roseburg right now is the most important game on our schedule. There's nobody else. They burn it into our heads every day in practice."

That moment of caution is in order whenever Roseburg comes into play, but most definitely when the Indians venture into Spiegelberg Stadium. Roseburg (2-6, 1-2 SWC) played host to South Medford and North Medford last year but the Indians have won at least one game at Spiegelberg in the prior four seasons.

Three of those losses have been at the Panthers' expense, in 2003, '05 and '06. Roseburg beat the Black Tornado in Medford in 2004.

"They're dangerous, we know that," says Singler. "Thurman's teams always seem to play well at the end of the year anyway."

A win over Roseburg would secure South Medford no worse than a share of the SWC title leading into next week's regular-season finale against Sheldon. But a loss to the Indians, and a subsequent hypothetical loss to the Irish, could potentially drop the Panthers into a worst-case scenario that would leave them as the No. 4 seed from the SWC.

Needless to say, Singler's words of wisdom to his players this week are not simply lip service.

That emphasis doubles when you consider how vital a win over South Medford could be to Roseburg's playoff chances since the Indians currently sit tied for fourth place with North Medford.

"I think (Sheldon coach) Marty Johnson said it best in a quote I read last week, but when you're a team that's up there people are going to give you their best shot every week, and I think we've seen that," says Singler. "We're going to get everybody's best shot and we expect the same thing from Roseburg."

Roseburg is coming off a tough 28-20 loss to sixth-ranked Grants Pass, and dominated South Eugene a week prior before the Axemen put together a fourth-quarter rally that fell short.

Thaddeus Davis, a 5-foot-10, 150-pound junior, has come on strong as of late at quarterback and gives the Indians an effective run-pass threat. Davis has completed 61 of 111 passes for 947 yards with seven touchdowns and eight interceptions, and run for 136 yards and two scores on 43 carries.

Adding support is a stable of running backs led by Josh Weaver, who ranks third in the SWC with 516 yards and six TDs on 117 carries. Joe Hennricks, Nolan McGinnis and fullback Lucas Corder also give the Indians steady options in the backfield.

On the flanks, Roseburg's Josh Davis has been the primary receiver with 12 catches for 238 yards, while Dakota Cavens has 16 for 205 yards and Matt Thomson 12 for 141.

"They're going to run the ball," says Singler, "but at the same time they do a lot of things in the passing game to catch your attention."

Hindering the cause for Roseburg thus far has been a defense that is allowing an average of 208 yards through the air and another 119 on the ground. The Indians rank second to last in total defense (327.4 yards allowed per game) and in scoring defense (30.3 points allowed per game) for the SWC.

In contrast, South Medford ranks second in total offense at almost 350 yards per game, second in total defense at 249 yards allowed and first in scoring defense (13.6 points allowed per game).

And to a man, the Panthers don't believe things have truly clicked yet this season.

"We're starting to get glimpses of what we could be, but I don't believe we've played our best football, yet," says Milhollin. "And that's a great thing, I think."

Milhollin has thrown for a SWC-high 1,611 yards thus far with 13 TDs and eight interceptions on 108-for-201 passing. The junior QB is coming off a game in which he completed 17 of 26 passes for 248 yards, three TDs and one interception.

His main targets have been senior cousins Mitch and E.J. Singler, but the Panthers have also done well to utilize the receiving skills out of the backfield of tailbacks Patrick Thibeault and Daniel Kinney and fullback Sam McLaughlin. E.J. Singler leads the team with 44 receptions to go with 619 yards, while Mitch Singler has gained the most yardage (639) on 27 receptions.

As testament to South Medford's offensive balance, only 530 total yards separate what the Panthers have gained through the air (1,664 yards) and on the ground (1,134).

Thibeault is South's leading rusher with 151 carries for 657 yards and 12 TDs, while Kinney has helped ease some of the load with 40 carries for 247 yards and three scores.

"We're going to stay within ourselves and we're not going to try to do too much," Milhollin says of Friday's game plan. "We're just going to play our football and, hopefully, that will get the job done."

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

Share This Story