Coach Dave Ellis said PHS senior Chase Ringwald "had the best game of anyone all year" in Thursday's 0-0 tie against Stayton. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The two teams that took the field on Thursday afternoon in Philomath have a legitimate shot at the Class 4A state title this season. The Eagles and Warriors entered this week as the top two teams in the OSAAtoday coaches poll, so perhaps the head-to-head matchup would provide some clarity on which program might have the upper hand.

The question went unanswered with the two teams playing to a scoreless tie.

“On one hand, I think we’re happy that we kept Stayton off the board,” PHS coach Dave Ellis said. “Just disappointed that we didn’t win the game. We had to adjust to a few things they were doing but once we changed their shape, I felt like we were on top of most of the game and just didn’t get the ball in. Sometimes the ball doesn’t go.”

Both teams had a chance to steal the win in the final few minutes of the game. In the 78th minute, Philomath senior Mateo Candanoza got a good look and fired a hard shot toward the middle of the net. But Stayton senior goalkeeper Luis Mejia made an exceptional play to turn away the Warriors.

Ellis was impressed with the Stayton stop.

“I told their keeper that Shields’ gotta buy you McDonald’s for that,” Ellis joked, referring to Stayton head coach Chris Shields. “That was excellent. I wanted the goal but even our whole coaching staff was going, ‘yeah, that’s a good save.’”

Sophomore Silas Pittman breaks free for an opportunity at the goal early in the first half. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Eagles (7-0-2 overall, 3-0-2 Oregon West) took possession and pushed it quickly downfield for its own offensive opportunity. Junior Ismael Esparza tried to sneak one in the lower left corner of the net in the 79th but PHS senior goalkeeper Teddy Benbow slid in front of the shot.

A minute later, the final whistle blew and the teams will need to wait until their regular-season finales to battle for a second time.

Philomath senior Chase Ringwald had a career-type outing on defense against the Stayton attack.

“We were solid in the back, Chase (Ringwald) was phenomenal,” Ellis said. “Chase had the best game of anyone all year … he was on top of it. If we’re going to keep winning, he’s going to be the reason why we do it.”

Philomath (6-0-2, 3-0-2) dodged a bullet just two minutes into the second half on a Stayton offensive. On the play, Benbow got caught a few feet out of position but Ringwald stepped in to clear the ball and keep the game scoreless.

Said Ringwald, “Yeah, I was scared it was going to go in so I was covering behind him.”

Philomath goalkeeper Teddy Benbow makes a save against Stayton. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath, Stayton and unbeaten Henley have each allowed only three goals this season.

“The defense did really well … Chase played extremely well and so did Ian (Alba), our back line, Lukas Dunn, all of them,” sophomore Silas Pittman said.

Added Ringwald, “It was pretty difficult but we stayed composed and tried our hardest.”

As far as Philomath’s offensive opportunities, Pittman said, “It was pretty tough up there, pretty physical.”

Indeed, the game was very physical with Philomath’s Candanoza among the players who battled most through the rough play.

“Pretty intense, a lot of aggression from the other team,” Pittman said. “Both wanted to win really bad and both didn’t get the outcome we wanted but it was hard fought and we’re going to get them there at their home.”

The Philomath-Stayton rematch is scheduled for Oct. 25 in the regular-season finale that could decide the Oregon West championship.

The Warriors’ next game is set for this coming Tuesday at home against Cascade, an opponent Philomath defeated 2-0 on Sept. 22.

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.