Sophomore Warwick Bushnell smiles after scoring his second touchdown of the evening at Junction City. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

JUNCTION CITY — Success often lies in the details — springing a run with a block, knocking down a pass to kill a drive, avoiding the types of mistakes that can impact the outcome of the game.

Philomath High’s football team feels like it’s close to turning a corner. Junction City took advantage of a quick start to build an early lead and then held on for a 40-26 victory on Friday night. But the 1-3 Warriors believe they can reverse their fortunes in the coming weeks and start stringing wins together.

It all comes down to those details.

“If we work on the little things, we will get better and better and hopefully we will make it to the playoffs,” PHS senior Ty Olson said. “Right now, it looks like a rough start for us but if we take care of the little things, I feel like we will do really well.”

Second-year coach Alex Firth believes the team can experience better days ahead.

“Like I told the kids, it’s not the end of the world — we saw a lot of good things and we just have to build off of those,” he said.

Philomath would like to put a more even-keeled performance together over a full four quarters.

“If we’re being honest, I feel like we just came into it a little slow, sluggish, zombie,” sophomore Warwick Bushnell said. “I think if we just had a little more energy in the first half, we could have done something with this game.”

Freshman CD Nuno catches a 26-yard pass on Philomath’s second play from scrimmage on Friday night at Junction City. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Junction City took the game’s opening kickoff and drove 80 yards in seven plays to take the early lead. Philomath couldn’t slow down the Tigers during the possession — two plays went 21 yards each and another for 14. The TD came on a four-yard run by quarterback Gunner Rothenberger.

The Warriors answered, however, with an 80-yard drive of its own. Junior signal caller Kaden Muir hit freshman receiver CD Nuno on a 26-yard pass over the middle on the team’s second play from scrimmage. Three plays later, Muir connected with Bushnell for another 22 yards to move the chains.

Moments later while facing third-and-9, Muir and Bushnell connected again on a 26-yard touchdown on a fade route.

“Coming into this, we knew that their corners like to play man close up,” Bushnell said. “I’m pretty fast so we had a plan that I could just outrun them and it worked out.”

But Junction City controlled the rest of the first quarter and most of the second while scoring 21 unanswered points. When the Tigers went up 28-6 with only 1:10 remaining in the first half, the momentum appeared to be entirely under the home team’s control.

Kaden Muir throws a TD pass. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

“That offense is hard to defend … it’s the Notre Dame box, it’s a little bit of a grinder,” Firth said. “Guys get tired and they just continue to lean on you and grind you, so the defense gets a little worn down.”

Instead of rolling over to regroup at the break, Philomath covered 75 yards in five plays that was capped by a 20-yard touchdown pass from Muir to Nuno with only 6 seconds left. David Griffith’s 10-yard run and 34-yard reception helped Philomath reach the red zone.

“We knew going into the game with the way they blitz that we’re going to have to throw the ball,” Firth said. “They’re not going to let David and Ty (Olson) run the ball — it’s pretty much what we’re going to see the whole rest of the year. So we worked pretty hard this week on the passing game.”

Still, mistakes happened — a dropped snap, for example, or wide-open receivers not getting the ball. Said Firth, “Those are plays we have to make … we’ll continue to work on the good stuff.”

The Warriors got the ball to start the second half but disaster struck with a fumble deep in their own territory. Junction City fell on it at the 3-yard line and punched it into the end zone in one play for a 34-12 lead.

Philomath allowed only six more points the rest of the way.

“I’m actually pleasantly surprised we were still in this late,” Firth said about the outcome. “Had we done some things a little bit more positively in the first half, I think it’s a much, much better game and I think we would’ve had an opportunity to win this.”

David Griffith picks up 36 yards on a key reception late in the first half. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Olson hit paydirt on Philomath’s ensuing possession when he sprinted 60 yards to the end zone.

“We didn’t run a lot of our pull game because we were getting that constant blitz,” Firth said. “We caught them not blitzing on that and hit a big one and took it to the house.”

Olson refused to take much credit on the long TD run, which cut the home team’s lead at the time to 34-19.

“I’m really appreciative of my line for helping me out big time,” he said. “Without that hole, I wouldn’t have been able to get there.”

Junction City responded with a 10-play, 65-yard drive that took a good chunk of time off the clock in the third quarter. The Tigers converted twice on third down earlier in the drive to keep the possession going and ended up scoring on fourth down from a yard out.

On the final play of the third quarter, the Warriors recovered a fumble and had new life. Philomath maintained possession over the first six minutes of the fourth quarter with a 13-play, 57-yard drive. A pass interference penalty that Bushnell drew moved the chains on one third down and on another, Muir picked up the necessary yardage to keep the possession going.

Later, facing third-and-10, Muir broke off an eight-yard run and on fourth-and-two, he connected with Nuno on an 11-yard completion. The touchdown came on a fourth down as well with Muir’s five-yard completion to Bushnell on a slant.

“I feel kinda bad … I ran right in front of Hudson (Raab) and I think it was meant for him,” Bushnell said. “But I was in the right place at the right time so it worked out.”

Sophomore lineman Brady Russell runs the ball downfield after catching an illegal pass late in the fourth quarter. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Junction City had 405 yards of total offense, which included 277 on the ground. Philomath’s running game struggled much of the night with 83 yards — 60 of that coming on one play. Through the air, Muir completed 11 of 20 passes for 156 yards and no interceptions. Nuno caught seven balls for 67 yards and Bushnell had three receptions for 53 yards.

Philomath (1-1 in Special District 3) will next face Stayton on Sept. 30 at Clemens Field. The Eagles will come in with a 2-2 record after a 35-7 loss on Friday to Marist Catholic.


Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

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.