— Alex Shoemaker, EDN

In a season finale featuring two undefeated teams, the visiting Sheldon Irish and South Medford Panthers, the Irish came away with a hard-fought 35-12 victory.

Both teams entered the game undefeated and looking for a first place seeding in the OSAA 6A High School Football playoffs.

Sheldon has an averaged score of 48-9 in their nine games this season, making for the largest margin of victory in the 6-A league. Led by coach Lane Johnson, the Irish have absolutely crushed opponents with speedy offense and a defense adapt at forcing turnovers.

On the year, Sheldon’s defense has forced 32 turnovers (21 interceptions, 11 fumble recoveries) for one of the best defenses in the state of Oregon.

This game was no different, as the Irish forced six interceptions, taking three in for scores.

Sheldon scored on its opening drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Connor Strahm, his first of four touchdowns.  Two plays later, on the Panthers’ first offensive play of the game, Strahm picked off South Medford High School’s starting quarterback Jack Singler for a pick-six. The Irish led 14-0.

South Medford’s senior quarterback Jack Singler, starting quarterback and son of head coach Bill Singler, had his worst performance of the season throwing six costly interceptions.

Singler is the younger cousin of Kyle (Duke Basketball, now in the NBA) and E.J. (Oregon Ducks Basketball), part of a long lineage of Singler brothers who have stared at South Medford. Singler had only thrown two interceptions prior to Friday night’s game, but now sits at 8.

The Panthers’ star receiver, Matt Retzlaff, has been Singler’s favorite receiver, bringing in 14 touchdown catches and nearly 1,000 yards on the season.

Later in the second quarter, Singler and Matt Retzlaff connected on a 40-yard touchdown pass for the Panthers’ first score of the game. The Panthers’ extra point was blocked, bringing the score at 14-6 at halftime.

Midway through the third quarter, the Panthers’ returned Sean Bellotti’s punt 60 yards all the way down to the 13-yard line. Two plays later, quarterback Singler sneaked the ball in from the 1-yard line.

Bellotti is the son of former University of Oregon head coach and athletic director Mike Bellotti.

A failed two-point conversion to tie the game brought the score to a 14-12 Irish lead.

With 35.7 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Strahm took a direct snap from the 6-yard line in for a score putting the Irish up 21-12.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Singler threw his fourth interception of the game, giving the Irish great field position once again. Later in the Irish’s drive, quarterback Dillon Miller and Strahm connected for another score to put the Irish up 28-12 with eight minutes remaining in the game.

Sheldon’s star quarterback, Dillon Miller, has been near perfect all season long, passing for over 2,500 yards on the season with 27 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions.

The Irish have been loaded with great quarterbacks over the past decade, most notably being 2003 graduate, Alex Brink, who stared at Washington State and was eventually drafted by the Houston Texans in the 7th round of the 2008 NFL Draft.

With 18.9 seconds left, Sheldon’s Ivan Faulhaber picked off Singler’s last interception of the game to put the final nail in the coffin. Sheldon 35-12.

Sheldon’s Strahm spoke after the game about the great balance of the Irish in the game.

“We did great,” Strahm said. “An overall team effort. Everyone did great – the D-line, Dillon (Miller), everyone.”

Miller says that with a bye week, the team will use the time to rest up, get healthy and prepare for whomever they play. The 35-12 score may make it appear as if the game was lopsided, but costly turnovers and crucial mistakes were what led to an Irish victory.

“Can we get better? We can always get better,” Strahm said. “There’s a lot left to be played.”

At 9-0 (7-0), the Irish will finish either No. 1 or No. 2 in the OSAA rankings, affecting the playoff bracket positioning. South Medford, now 8-1 (6-1), will also earn a spot in the playoffs, likely finishing in the seeding around 5-6.

Round 1 of the state playoffs begins November 11th.