PHS senior Favian Aceves heads the ball back toward senior teammate Gradin Fairbanks in the first half. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath High’s overall record in boys soccer stands at just 3-7 and the team’s chances to qualify for a play-in game might be fading. But after another hard-fought performance Thursday afternoon against one of Oregon West’s upper-division teams, the Warriors continue to impress their coach.

This season has been a process as the Warriors work through heavy graduation losses off last year’s playoff squad and throw players with little varsity experience into the fire. 

Philomath remains in contention for a play-in game but has its work cut out with two of its last three games against North Marion on the road and Stayton at home for Senior Night.

“We’re taking our bumps this year and building for next year,” PHS coach Dave Ellis said following Newport’s 3-1 victory. “I’ve seen progress this season and I told the underclassmen that I was proud of the progress they’ve made.”

For some of the older players that have tasted success — the Warriors won the state title just two years ago — it’s a tough pill to swallow.

Philomath’s Silas Pittman (11) sends a header over Newport’s goalkeeper for a goal in the 64th minute. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

“Silas (Pittman) has shown an immense amount of character this year — keeping his teammates up, being positive, pushing,” Ellis said. “It’s hard for him, I mean, he went from playing with 13 kids all older than him to everyone’s younger or less experienced. So it’s a big change but man, he’s stepped into it with seven or eight goals, which is phenomenal.”

Favian Aceves, Lukas Dunn and Austin Hunsaker — now all seniors — were also on the state title team. Aceves has a mature approach as far as what the players want to accomplish this fall.

“Just try to make it to the playoffs,” he said, “and for the younger folks to just improve and hopefully have successful seasons later on in the coming years.”

Ellis and his Warriors have been coming close this season. Philomath has an 0-4 record combined against Newport, Stayton and North Marion with scores of 3-1, 3-1, 4-0 and 3-1. Take note — none of those losses were blowouts.

The Warriors were scoreless at halftime at Stayton last week and also scoreless at the break Thursday against visiting Newport.

PHS senior Lukas Dunn lines up a free kick in the second half that turned out to be an assist on a Silas Pittman goal. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

“Today, at times, I thought we were unlucky to not be up 1-nil at half,” Ellis said. “There were definitely chances that we had but we’ve got to continue to be comfortable in the field.”

Both teams had opportunities in the first half but defenders and goalkeepers were in the zone. PHS sophomore keeper Jake McGaughy had several saves to turn the Cubs away through the first 40 minutes.

Philomath had a chance in the 26th minute when sophomore Zach Grapoli from the right corner sent a cross over the middle to Pittman, whose header just missed to the left.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” Aceves said. “We played our hearts out but it’s not the result we wanted.”

Philomath’s Zach Grapoli looks to pass downfiel after winning a ball. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Newport scored less than 30 seconds into the second half on a penalty kick by Salvador Magana when a scrum went Newport’s way with a whistle. The tough, close play continued and the Cubs were able to punch in a second goal in the 59th minute on an Anthony Gonzalez shot.

About four minutes later, Philomath had its turn to dazzle. Dunn took a free kick from about 10 yards on the far side of midfield and sent a well-placed ball to Pittman, who jumped high to place a header just over Newport goalkeeper Noah Martinson and into the net.

Said Ellis of Dunn, “He’s got a heck of a cannon on him.”

The game remained 2-1 for several minutes with Philomath’s best chance to tie it coming in the 70th minute. The Warriors were putting together an offensive threat and Pittman had an opportunity in traffic but just barely missed.

Newport’s last goal came in the 78th minute with the play getting started with a corner kick.

“Our energy kind of went down,” said Aceves, who had to leave the game for a stretch in the first half after taking a cleat in the calf. “We just came in overconfident, I think, in the second half.”

Philomath (3-3 Oregon West) is scheduled to play Tuesday at North Marion (4 p.m. start), Thursday at Sweet Home (6 p.m.) and then Oct. 24 at home against Stayton (3:30 p.m.) in what will serve as Senior Night.

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.