Coach Alex Firth talks to Kaden Muir, who stepped back into the starting quarterback role for the Warriors Friday night and threw for 124 yards. Muir also had two interceptions on defense, including a pick-six. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

EUGENE — Working out of shotgun formation on Marist Catholic’s second possession, junior Nick Hudson appeared to have senior receiver Brady Bidwell in mind on a pass play over the middle in an attempt to move the chains on third-and-18.

Philomath senior Kaden Muir messed up those plans.

Reading the QB’s eyes while feeling the receiver make his cut, Muir stepped in front of the pass for the interception, broke to his left and outsprinted Hudson to the end zone on a 58-yard pick-six.

“After I caught it, there was no one in front of me and I finally outran the quarterback,” said Muir, who had a second interception in the third quarter.

The play turned out to represent Philomath’s only points of the evening, however, in a 43-6 road loss. The Spartans racked up 506 yards of total offense, including 364 through the air, to keep pace with Junction City and remain in a tie for first place in Special District 3.

Philomath entered the game with a fresh approach to the offense after needing to make a change at quarterback. Muir’s no stranger to the position with his first start coming as a sophomore and then starting as a junior.

PHS fans try to stay dry at Friday night’s game in Eugene. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

“We went back to some stuff we had practiced during the summer when Kaden was essentially going to be the starter so it was a little more run focused,” Firth said.

Firth ultimately decided to implement a mostly pitch-and-catch philosophy with junior Caleb Russell at QB and a crew of capable receivers. As such, Muir’s offensive focus this year has been on playing running back.

Muir said it was an interesting week of practice getting prepared for the Spartans while installing the triple option and other motion formations.

“Very interesting, changing up everything,” Muir said. “Having to come back and actually know everything, yeah, it’s been a little bit of work.”

The offensive backfield changes also led to a more prominent ball-carrying role for senior Mason Stearns.

“There was a little bit of trial and error at the start of the week,” Stearns said. “But by the end, it looked like we were clicking and everything was working well.”

Philomath senior Mason Sterns had a season-high 10 carries against Marist. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

Philomath finished with 225 total yards — 101 rushing and 124 passing — and had its opportunities to put points on the board. But the Warriors couldn’t finish on their opportunities and the Spartans pulled away with a significant number of big plays.

“We moved the ball pretty well but made dumb mistakes when we’d get down there,” Muir said.

Marist picked up yards in chunks on an evening that included TD passes of 50, 19, 72 and 45 yards. The most acrobatic play occurred in the second quarter when Bidwell went high for a one-handed catch and sprinted to the end zone on the 72-yarder.

Philomath’s defense kept Marist off the scoreboard in the third quarter.

“We were doing well and then we just started getting beat up, the guys started getting hurt,” Firth said. “It’s a war of attrition and unfortunately we attrit. They’re a really good team, I mean, athletically they have some dudes.”

Philomath had a decided advantage with the clock — part of that was because Marist scored quickly but also because the Warriors did move the chains and string together drives.

“I thought we did OK — we had fits and spurts and that’s what you expect when you have to kind of overhaul things a little bit in Game 7,” Firth said. “It clicked at times and then it didn’t click. We don’t have enough reps to be super good at it.”

Marist Catholic’s Christian Guerrero catches a 54-yard pass down to the PHS 1 where teammate Aiden Hazen ran it in. The Spartans passed for 364 yards and had 508 total yards in the 43-6 win over Philomath. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

Muir completed 11 of 24 passes with three interceptions and ran for 60 yards. Removing three sacks — which in high school and college counts against the QB’s rushing stats — Muir had 87 yards on 12 attempts.

“Kaden is a great athlete and having the ball in his hands is good for us,” Firth said. “We obviously didn’t have enough time to wrap up to the point that it needed to be crisp. So heading into next week, same situation, we’ve just got to get reps at practice and get better at what we’re doing.”

Sophomore CD Nuno was the top receiver with four catches for 65 yards. Junior Warwick Bushnell returned from injury and had Philomath’s longest pass play with a 35-yard catch on a third-and-10 in the second quarter.

Stearns had to work hard to pick up tough yards against a speedy Marist defense. One of the team’s best running plays of the evening occurred on a first-and-10 at the PHS 30. Muir faked inside and tossed the option pitch to Stearns, who turned the corner for 10 yards.

“It felt really good to get back out there and play some running back, run in space a little bit again,” he said.

Philomath junior lineman Brady Russell sacks the quarterback. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

On defense, junior Brady Russell had a sack in the first quarter and the Warriors made a key stop on fourth-and-2 at the 15 when the score was 15-6 in the second quarter.

Hudson completed 15 of 28 passes and four touchdowns and two interceptions for Marist (6-1 overall, 4-0 league). Bidwell had five receptions for 156 yards and two scores, Kaden Erienbush had two catches for 97 yards and two scores and Christian Guerrero caught three for 93.

Philomath (3-4, 2-3) has a solid hold on fourth place in the league behind Marist, Junction City and Cascade. The Warriors will head south to Klamath Union for a nonconference game at 7 p.m. Friday and then host Sweet Home for Senior Night on Oct. 27.

Those two opponents have a combined 1-13 record so Philomath’s chances for victory seem strong — at least on paper. Roster issues have forced a few starters to the sideline and nothing is a given in high school football.

Said Firth, “It’s on us — we’ve got to clean up a whole bunch of stuff.”

Philomath sophomore CD Nuno tries to pick up yards against the Spartans. (Photo by Andy Cripe/Philomath News)

For the players, Firth said it’s important for them to know that there is still a lot to play for with two weeks remaining in the regular season.

“We’re not done,” he said. “We’ve got to take care of the next two games and then it’s just math at that point and we’ll see where the chips fall.”

The Warriors are currently sitting in 20th in the OSAA rankings and have a solid shot at qualifying for a play-in game.

“We’ve just got to come back on Monday ready to work and to not dwell on the loss,” Stearns said. “And we need to get some players back in pads and back on the field.”

Philomath’s Caleb Russell was not in pads Friday night and junior Hudson Raab has been sidelined as he goes through concussion protocol.

“It’s not just at quarterback, I mean, we’re pretty beat up in other places,” Firth said. “So it’s getting guys that haven’t had a lot of varsity reps in practice and stuff. It was a challenge to get everybody ready.”

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.