Reynolds was relentless with its running game and South Medford struggled to find a rhythm on either side of the football in a hard-fought battle that saw the Panthers suffer a 35-28 loss in the first round of the Class 6A state playoffs Friday at Spiegelberg Stadium.
The visiting 20th-seeded Raiders pinned their hopes time and again to sophomore running back Miles Wilson and the 5-foot-9, 195-pounder did not disappoint. Darting behind a physical offensive line, Wilson marched his team to the second round by totaling 287 yards and four touchdowns on 39 carries against the 13th-seeded Panthers.
“They’ve got a weird scheme and they threw a lot of different stuff at us we were not ready for,” said South Medford senior safety Jace Campbell. “That No. 3 (Wilson) is a stud. He deserved it, he worked his (tail) off. They all deserved it.”
Wilson’s 77-yard TD run opened the scoring with 6:13 left in the first quarter, and his go-ahead 8-yard TD run came with that same exact time on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter. His ensuing two-point conversion run made it 35-28, with Wilson scoring all but nine of his team’s points in the upset.
“It’s a big win,” said Wilson, who was hoisted on the shoulders of his teammates with “MVP” chants after the game. “We haven’t been here in a while and I’m just proud to bring it back to the town that we’re still going in the playoffs, baby.”
Reynolds (7-3) will play at No. 4 Jesuit next Friday, while South Medford’s season came to an end with a 6-4 record after tying for second place in the Southwest Conference.
In a back-and-forth game where every possession seemed vital, the Panthers twice allowed Reynolds to successfully run for first downs on fake fourth-down punts and another special teams gaffe set up a last-minute score in the first half to send the game into halftime tied 21-all.
“Our two best phases all year that we’ve leaned on, defense and special teams, didn’t come to play the way we’ve played all year,” said South Medford head coach Bill Singler. “Our special teams has won almost every game we’ve played this year in that phase but it let us down today.”
“We competed for a while and had our chances,” added the coach, “but when you give extra ball possessions on breakdowns in special teams, that’s hard to overcome. Basically that, in the end, is what nipped us in the bud there.”
Reynolds ran for 391 yards overall on 62 carries and showed just why it has averaged around 42 points per game thus far. That aggressive style spilled over to defense, where the Raiders limited South Medford to 227 yards overall — 110 on the ground and 118 through the air.
“The kids played with incredible heart tonight,” said Reynolds head coach Ryan Aldred. “We didn’t have everything on offense tonight and we persevered. My hat goes off to those (South Medford) guys, they’re very well-coached and a heck of a football team, but these guys just did a tremendous job tonight. They weren’t going to quit.”
After Wilson opened the scoring with his 77-yarder, South Medford answered only 2 1/2 minutes later on a 23-yard touchdown connection from Giovanni Bottero to fellow senior Trevor Marthoski.
It took three straight runs inside the 8-yard line but Wilson finally managed to punch in his second TD on a 1-yard plunge to give Reynolds another lead, but South Medford’s big-play ability with junior Austin Boster pulled things even again after his leaping 47-yard catch set up a 1-yard TD dive by Bottero.
The Panthers appeared to have finally gained the upper hand when Boster hauled in a 32-yard TD pass to give his team a 21-14 lead with 48 seconds remaining in the first half.
That all was negated moments later, however, when Reynolds senior Kehdon Fletcher took the ensuing kickoff through traffic, shedding tacklers at every turn before ultimately being pulled down at the South Medford 1-yard line. Wilson capped the drive with his third TD run with 25 seconds remaining to make it 21-all at the break.
“Just the momentum going into halftime with that was huge,” Aldred said of the pivotal kick return. “Instead of going down by a touchdown, we’re going in tied, with the momentum and with the ball in the second half. It was unbelievably huge for us.”
Still, South Medford was able to shake that off to build a 28-21 lead on a 1-yard, fourth-down dive by senior Cole Boster seven minutes into the third quarter.
But as the Raiders were able to do all night, Wilson found a few seams and had his team in scoring position less than two minutes later, with D’Andre Katz doing the honors this time around on a 6-yard TD run to make it 28-27 after a missed extra-point attempt.
South Medford essentially lost the services of Austin Boster thereafter after he reinjured his ankle and was hampered on the rest of his routes. With the running game limited — senior Terrence Butler needed 22 carries to total 85 yards — and Bottero (8-for-19 passing) in long-distance passing downs for the most part, the Panthers didn’t really threaten to score over the final 15 minutes.
“We tried to find ways to run the ball and they were just very physical up front for us,” said Singler. “They brought a lot of pressure with their inside linebackers on run-throughs and stuff and we didn’t handle that real well either.”
“We scored our average of 28 points,” he added. “We’re not a high-scoring team, we just rely on basically our defense to give us good field position and our special teams to do the same. We just couldn’t muster enough points tonight.”
A fake punt pulled off by Fletcher set the stage for Reynolds to seize its comeback effort, and Wilson essentially did all the rest as he carried a pair of defenders into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
“He’s an unbelievable kid,” said Aldred. “He’s got an incredible work ethic and you obviously see what he can do on a football field. He’s a tremendous young man and the fact that he’s only a sophomore? His future is very bright.”
The feeling on the home sideline, however, was not as luminous.
“We tried our hardest, I know I tried my hardest and I know everybody else gave their all too,” said Campbell. “I think we came in with the wrong mindset originally and it just didn’t happen. I think we came in with the mindset that they only have a few dudes and underestimated a lot of them. And with a win like last week (35-0 over crosstown rival North Medford), that happens to teams, you get feeling too good.”