Making it into the state playoffs hasn’t been an issue for South Medford’s football team under the direction of head coach Bill Singler. Advancing deep into those same playoffs, well, that was another matter.
All that changed last year when Singler’s Panthers advanced to the Class 6A state championship game and held a late lead until Clackamas kicked a game-winning field goal in the final seconds.
Even though the outcome wasn’t what South Medford wanted, the ability to prove that the Panthers could make it beyond the state quarterfinals was valuable moving forward.
South Medford (6-3) will get another chance to see how far it can go in the 32-team bracket beginning 7 p.m. Friday when it plays host to Reynolds (6-3) at Spiegelberg Stadium.
In Friday’s other 6A first-round games, North Medford travels to face Lake Oswego and Grants Pass plays at Oregon City.
At the 5A level, Crater opens at home against Lebanon, while 3A action includes Cascade Christian playing host to Harrisburg at U.S. Cellular Community Park and St. Mary’s playing at Scio.
“We’re excited to have a home game,” said Singler of the first-round game. “Really that’s why you play the regular season, and each game means something. It’s nice to play a game at home in front of your fans. We’re playing well at home, which is good, and we want to keep that momentum going for as long as we can.”
The 20th-seeded Raiders from Troutdale offer up yet another unique challenge for the No. 13 Panthers, who have seen a bevy of looks during this year’s schedule.
“They give you a lot of problems,” said Singler. “We’ve seen about six or seven different styles of offense this year defensively, it’s been kind of a smorgasbord, and here we are with another team like Reynolds, which is unconventional running a triple option out of shotgun. And they have very good skill athletes to do it.”
Senior quarterback Jaden Hawkinson sets the tone for the Raiders, with the 5-foot-10, 185-pounder possessing good running skills and the ability to take advantage of one-on-one matchups through the air when defenses begin to focus solely on the run game.
“He likes to carry the ball and he’s good with the ball in his hands,” said Singler, “so we’re going to have to account for him every snap and be on him and tackle him because he can make plays on you.”
Senior Kehdon Fletcher (6-1, 190) and junior Nick Haynes (6-2, 190) give Hawkinson solid matchup threats on the perimeter. Reynolds, which finished fourth in its conference behind Clackamas, enters the game averaging just over 42 points per game.
“They can put points on the board if you look at their scores,” said Singler. “We’ve got a big job ahead of us, but I know our defense is up to the task and we’ve just got to play sound, fundamental defense and hope everyone does their job.”
The Panthers led the Southwest Conference in total defense, allowing 297 yards and about 18 points per game, and are coming off a 35-0 shutout of crosstown rival North Medford. In that game, Singler pointed to the improved play of his linemen on both sides of the ball for making it possible for the Panthers to put forth such a dominant effort.
“It was really nice to see them play well in a big game like that,” said the coach.
Singler hopes that same level of physicality can be brought to Friday’s game, with the Panthers also leaning on a balanced offensive attack that has been led by seniors Giovanni Bottero and Terrence Butler and junior Austin Boster. Bottero has completed 61 percent of his passes for 1,489 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions, while Butler has run for 721 yards and 12 TDs and Boster has 631 yards and 10 TDs receiving.
South Medford also got a boost Wednesday when junior running back/safety Mason DeVries was cleared to play after sitting out the past two weeks with a broken finger.
NORTH MEDFORD AT LAKE OSWEGO: After entering the final week of the regular season with a No. 33 state power ranking, North Medford (3-6) figured its loss to South Medford would mark the end of the road in the first season under head coach Steve Turner.
To the Black Tornado’s surprise, however, it rose to No. 32 and earned the final berth in the state playoffs and a date Friday at No. 1 Lake Oswego (8-1).
“I wasn’t really sure after the game,” said Turner, “I just didn’t think that there was any possible way.”
Now that his team is in, the Black Tornado has accomplished one of its main goals to the season and out for more.
“We consider it a second season,” said Turner, “so there’s 32 teams left that are 0-0 and we’ve got a chance to start over.”
“Our kids are realistic,” he added, “they know we’re playing the No. 1 team in the state. It’s a great opportunity and we put it out to them that we’ve got to be perfect, but what a great time to do our best.”
Lake Oswego has earned its ranking in the 27th season under head coach Steve Coury, with eight of the team’s nine wins coming against top-16 teams in the 6A rankings. It’s lone loss was a 49-39 setback against Clackamas in September.
Junior running back Casey Filkins (5-11, 185) has carried the load thus far for the Lakers, who were ousted by South Medford in last year’s state semifinals. Filkins ran 40 times for 339 yards and four TDs in last week’s win over Lakeridge.
Senior quarterback Jackson Laurent (6-1, 200) has done all he’s been asked to do thus far in his first season at the helm, comfortable setting up Filkins or dialing downfield to a bevy of receiving threats.
Defensively, the Lakers also feature senior linebacker Bryson Breeze (5-11, 190), who grew up in Medford before moving away in 2013.
North Medford senior running back Eli Spence already owns the school’s single-season rushing record with 1,850 yards and 21 TDs on 257 carries. He is four rushing scores away from equaling another single-season school record.
Junior Josh Baptiste and senior Dallin England have done well to take pressure off Spence in the backfield, with junior Jett Carpenter spurring the passing game at tight end with 18 catches as a key target for sophomore QB Colby Neron.
“Competitors love to compete and I think we’ve got a few guys on our team that are competitors,” added Turner.