Three weeks ago, Philomath High’s David Griffith was lying on the ground at Clemens Field. The Warriors were playing Stayton and the 5-foot-7 running back/linebacker — one of the toughest athletes on the roster — wasn’t getting up.
The crowd quieted down, both teams took a knee and a worried mom, head coach, trainer and medics made their way to him. His teammates eventually huddled together to send positive thoughts. Finally, he got to his feet and was helped to the sideline.
Griffith did not want that moment to be his last in uniform at Clemens Field — which he calls one of his favorite places.
Fast forward to Friday night in Philomath’s home finale against Klamath Union. Griffith was back after clearing the concussion protocol to suit up for one last home game. The Warriors defense took the field first and forced the Pelicans into a three-and-out.
Philomath’s offense took over with a drive starting at its own 30. Quarterback Kaden Muir handed the ball off to Griffith on a counter play to the left. But there was little daylight, so he shifted to his right while following blocks. The Klamath Union defense tried to close in on him but instead, Griffith weaved his way through traffic and emerged with a 70-yard sprint to the end zone on his team’s first offensive play.
Yes, this was what he wanted for his final game at Clemens Field. Two touchdowns. 106 yards rushing. And Philomath won easily, 35-6, on homecoming.
“It was exciting for that to be my first play back with the guys,” Griffith said. “I wouldn’t have had it any other way honestly tonight, to start like that.”
PHS head coach Alex Firth said it was a great moment.
“You know, it’s funny, because he had that time off but he got his body healed,” Firth said. “So he was probably healthy for the first time all season except early on and now, it’s like the old David is back.”
Griffith’s unselfish nature showed through in a postgame interview as he gave credit to the big guys up front.
“Our offensive line just set up a great block to the cutback lane on the back side and it was over after that,” Griffith said. “They did a really good job the whole game staying in there and making holes like that for the running backs. Without them, none of that happens.”
The long touchdown run set the tone for the evening with Philomath steamrolling the opponent to a 35-0 lead by halftime.
“It felt really good to finally come back … I’ve been really anxious to play again,” Griffith said. “It was starting to bum me out not being out here with my friends.”
Griffith’s performance was just one of the storylines of Friday night’s victory. The defense had several big plays while attacking the Klamath Union offense. The Pelicans averaged just 2.8 yards per play.
Firth saw a defense that was able to put a lot of pressure on the opponent.
“It’s interesting, if we can have something good happen, it kinda starts to snowball a little bit for us,” Firth said. “We just need to have that something good happen — and then we can get it rolling a little bit.”
Chad Russell, the team’s 6-foot-7, 225-pound senior lineman, spent a lot of the evening in Klamath Union’s backfield with at least three sacks and a knockdown. Senior Giovanni Abdelsayed, junior Mason Stearns and Muir all contributed to the sack total as well.
“We should’ve won a lot more games than we did this year,” Russell said. “It sucks because we’ve only got five seniors, so the next couple of years are going to be pretty good building years because we’re really young … So this year was more for the underclassmen.”
One of those underclassmen, sophomore Warwick Bushnell, was another standout in the 29-point victory, which was Philomath’s second of the season. On defense, Bushnell returned an interception 64 yards for a touchdown and on offense, he caught a 66-yard pass for another touchdown — both in the second quarter.
“It’s been kind of a long two weeks … we’re pretty beat up,” Firth said, agreeing that the win provided a much-needed lift for the team. “I’m really proud of a lot of these guys — a lot of them played out of position, put their hands down and played on the offensive line and I think that gave us a little boost … helped us out quite a bit.
“I appreciate kids stepping up and doing what it takes for us to win a game,” he added. “I think that helped a ton.”
Griffith scored his second touchdown early in the second quarter on a 13-yard run to give Philomath a 14-0 lead. Since the Warriors had missed the extra point kick on the first TD, they went for two and Muir ran it in.
A little over 90 seconds later, Bushnell had his pick-6 and the rout was on.
The Warriors added to their lead with a 2-yard Muir touchdown run with 3:04 left in the first half. Klamath Union nearly answered on its next possession with junior Jett Johnson breaking free on a 29-yard run on the first play. Philomath senior Ty Olson ran him down on what was possibly a TD-saving tackle. The Pelicans later turned the ball over on downs.
Philomath went up 35-0 with 26 seconds left before halftime with Muir and Bushnell connecting on that 66-yard pass play.
With Philomath’s significant lead, the mercy rule kicked in with a running clock in the second half.
The Pelicans opened the third quarter with an onside kick and recovery, later scoring on a 32-yard pass from senior quarterback Wayce Saluskin to senior receiver Tony Ortiz on a fourth-and-9.
In the fourth quarter, Klamath Union drove all the way down to the Philomath 4 but the Warrior defense held and took over on downs. With the running clock and a few lengthy possessions by the Pelicans, the home team didn’t have much of a chance to run its offense. In fact, Philomath only ran seven plays in the third and fourth quarters combined.
Klamath Union was at the Philomath 10 in the final seconds with Saluskin finding Ortiz in the back of the end zone. Ortiz caught the ball but couldn’t get a foot down and the that’s how the game ended.
The Warriors had 200 yards rushing on 21 carries, which calculates to a pretty good 9.5 yards per carry. Olson finished with 53 yards and Muir ended up with 37. Through the air, Muir completed 4 of 6 passes for 136 yards. Senior Ty May caught two of those passes for 30 yards.
Klamath Union had just 40 yards rushing on 31 carries — a lot of negative yardage figured into the final total because of all of those PHS sacks.
The only trouble spot for Philomath came on penalties. The Warriors finished with nine penalties for 125 yards.
The team’s five seniors were honored before the game as part of Senior Night — Abdelsayed, Griffith, May, Olson and Russell.
The Warriors will end the regular season next week with an Oct. 28 trip to Sweet Home.
“I think this helps, you know, it helps with momentum,” Firth said, “and it’s kind of validating what they did this for.”