Resilient Panthers overtake Roseburg

ROSEBURG — If nothing else, South Medford coach Bill Singler learned the resolve of his team Friday night at Finlay Field.

One week after shocking then-No. 5 Grants Pass, 44-22, the Panthers had to claw back from an early 21-0 hole to pull out a 28-21 victory over Roseburg (5-3, 2-2 SWC), clinching the No. 2 seed to the Class 6A state playoffs in the process.

Seventh-ranked South Medford (6-2, 3-1 SWC) has one SWC game remaining against rival North Medford next Friday.

"This victory shows how much toughness we have," junior wide receiver Mitch Singler said. "We just battled through adversity and never gave up. I love this team."

That ability to fight through adversity came in many forms Friday.

Quarterback A.J. Palazzolo shook off a horrid first half, in which he was 9-for-16 for 144 yards and three interceptions, to lead two second-half scoring drives that tied the game. He finished 18-for-32 for 287 yards, four interceptions and three touchdowns.

Running back Patrick Thibeault, the hero last week with 292 rushing yards, had a pedestrian 15 yards on seven carries in the first half and 19 carries for 96 yards in the game. But he came up with the go-ahead 3-yard touchdown, which was set up by his 37-yard run a play earlier.

The Panther defense was shredded in the first half by Roseburg's play-action passing game and the option running of senior quarterback Jake Johnson. But the Panther defense recorded an interception to set up the winning score and an interception to ice the game.

"We were fighting an uphill battle from the get-go," South coach Bill Singler said. "Sometimes games aren't perfect. This game was not perfect by any means, but we still had the character to fight through the adversity. It tested the character of our team and we responded. It shows the true heart and soul of what our team is about this year."

It appeared Roseburg was headed for a lopsided win early. The Indians scored on their first two possessions and it only took three plays.

Johnson hit Josh Davis off of play-action for a 23-yard touchdown on the opening drive, then found Tony Castro on a similar play as Castro bounced off tacklers on his way to a 48-yard touchdown on the first play of Roseburg's second series. That made it 14-0 with 8:47 remaining in the first quarter.

Johnson was 3-for-3 passing for 101 yards and two touchdowns in those first two drives.

Johnson added a rushing touchdown of 7 yards late in the second quarter to put Roseburg ahead 21-0 before the Panthers awoke on both sides of the ball.

"The first half, we weren't in a rhythm," Mitch Singler said. "Roseburg came out tough. We never got in that groove. We just had to calm down and get back on track."

South Medford's first four possessions of the game ended with two punts and two Palazzolo interceptions, both coming deep in Roseburg territory.

But Palazzolo responded quickly after the Indians' last score, finding Mitch Singler for one of his two touchdown receptions. This one went for 49 yards on the first play of the drive. Palazzolo hit Singler on an in route, Singler spun off a tackle and was gone.

Palazzolo led a key drive to start the second half, orchestrating a seven-play, 71-yard drive capped by his 39-yard touchdown pass to tight end E.J. Singler in between Roseburg defenders on the left sideline. Early in the fourth, he hit on a 24-yard TD to Mitch Singler.

"The offense wasn't executing early, and I'll take full responsibility for that," Palazzolo said. "But that's what a team does. We came back and played a heck of a game and ended up getting the W, and that's all that's important.

"It feels great. It was ugly, but we will take it."

The South Medford defense, minus the opening minutes of the game, was nearly flawless when it mattered. After giving up 319 yards in the first half, the Panthers allowed just 88 in the second half. They forced punts on the Indians' first three possessions of the second half and created turnovers on Roseburg's final three, including two critical interceptions.

The first came after Palazzolo threw his fourth interception of the game deep in Roseburg territory. But the offense got another chance when sophomore Mario Sainez intercepted a tipped pass at the Roseburg 33-yard line with 2:14 remaining in the game.

Two plays later, and two runs by Thibeault, the bruising junior running back, and South had its first lead of the game.

E.J. Singler wrestled the ball away from a Roseburg receiver to halt the Indians' final drive with 1:08 to play as South ran out the clock and celebrated a gritty victory.

Reach reporter Luke Andrews at 776-4469, or e-mail

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