South, Roseburg ready for titanic clash

In a football season that has already seen some outstanding top-five matchups, South Medford and Roseburg take their turn on center stage at 7 tonight in a battle of unbeatens at Finlay Field in Roseburg.

In recent years, the matchup has brought about some fantastic finishes to highlight the Southwest Conference season, and few are expecting this year's clash to be any different.

Third-ranked Roseburg (4-0, 2-0 SWC) has allowed an astounding five points per game and is coming off an impressive shutout against Thurston in which the Indians forced six turnovers.

Fourth-ranked South Medford (4-0, 2-0) is off an impressive showing of its own, with senior quarterback Jack Singler passing for 424 yards and five touchdowns in a rout of Crater that boosted the Panthers' averages to 442 yards and 46 points per game. Singler's effort also earned him recognition as ESPN High School's West player of the week.

"They're 4-0 but so are we, so we're expecting it to be a battle and we have to prepare our best to win," says Panther senior lineman Jimmy Ditty.

Last year's matchup was capped in overtime by a game-winning, 41-yard field goal by Roseburg, and the Indians will look for their third straight win in what has ultimately been a back-and-forth series tonight. South Medford and Roseburg had split their prior eight meetings heading into last year's game, with the bulk of success for each team coming on the road. The Panthers have won three of the last four meetings at Finlay Field.

"We're going to have to draw on that experience," says South head coach Bill Singler. "They seem to do better down here, but on the road, we've done OK up there even though it's the toughest environment on the road that we play at."

As is typical with the Indians, Thurman Bell's team boasts a potent veer offense set in motion by quarterback Hayden Lent and running backs Javier Mandera, Ben Goirigolzarri and Selmar Hutchins. The Indians average 405 yards and 36 points per game.

"They're just real physical and they do not make mistakes," says Ditty.

While Lent may be in his first season as the varsity starter, he has been remarkably efficient — completing 26 of 47 passes for 640 yards, nine TDs and two interceptions — in guiding the offense. The three running backs each played key roles in last year's OT thriller, and all rank among the top 18 ground gainers in the SWC. Mandera is second in the league with 474 yards and five scores on 71 carries

The Indians use their ground game to draw focus to the backfield, then unleash a play-action passing game that features speedy Josh Cole, who is averaging 28 yards per catch and ranks sixth in the SWC with 288 yards receiving, and Chris Shoffner (six catches for 158 yards).

Another quick start, which has been a staple of South's season thus far, will be vital to counteract Roseburg's game plan.

"You can't get behind against a Roseburg team, especially a Roseburg team that really runs the ball and then uses play-action off of that," says coach Singler.

While Roseburg was able to force Thurston into several turnovers, no team in the SWC has controlled the football better than the Panthers, who have 17 takeaways against only three giveaways. Maintaining that stronghold will be vital tonight.

"I think that's why we've been successful, because we haven't beaten ourselves," says coach Singler. "We've taken care of the football and we've made good decisions. But when you play in a tougher environment, sometimes that can get the best of you, so we need to understand that we're prepared to play and go up there and give your best effort and let the chips fall where they may."

Last week, those chips fell all over the place in a flurry of connections between Jack Singler and senior slot receiver Matt Retzlaff, who finished with a school-record 13 catches for 256 yards. Retzlaff ranks second in the SWC with 519 yards on 28 receptions, scoring eight TDs through the air to go with an interception TD and a punt return TD as the conference's leading scorer.

The Indians will look to slow Retzlaff, which could open things up for wideouts Adrian Garcia (18 catches for 315 yards) and Max Farthing (nine for 134).

The Panthers will also look to get the ground game back on track after struggling a week ago, netting only 67 yards on 21 carries. Senior tailback Denzel Mobley still ranks third in the SWC with 434 yards and five scores on 83 carries, while shifty sophomore Christian Bowley is seventh with 239 yards and four TDs, averaging 14 yards per carry.

Defensively, South Medford is second only to Roseburg in the SWC at 10.5 points allowed per game. The Panthers have limited opponents to 265 yards per game, with linebackers Kirk Eastman and Anthony Gomez leading the effort. Gomez suffered a head injury in the fourth quarter last week but was cleared to play by doctors after passing concussion tests.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

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