PHS players try to direct a corner kick into the net during a scoring opportunity in the second half Tuesday against Stayton. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Facing the Oregon West Conference champion and one of the teams expected to make a run for the Class 4A state title, the Philomath High School boys soccer team certainly had a daunting task in its regular-season finale Tuesday afternoon.

But the Warriors nearly pulled off a shocker in what ended up as a 1-0 loss to No. 3 Stayton on a slippery PHS pitch. Even the lone goal seemed as though it could’ve gone either way.

“It was gutsy, it was brave,” PHS coach David Ellis said about his team, which finishes the season with a 4-9 record. “We kind of came into the game with ‘we didn’t have anything to lose’ and barring questionable refereeing calls, it would’ve been 0-0.”

The goal occurred in the 11th minute during a melee in front of the net. Stayton put the ball in play on a corner kick and several players were bunched up near PHS goalkeeper Jake McGaughy to try to either score or clear. Ellis believes the goal shouldn’t have counted, saying a Stayton player appeared to push the ball forward with his hand before it was kicked into the net.

Said Ellis, “The referee didn’t have an angle on it.”

Sophomore Logan Andrade was credited by Stayton’s coach with the goal.

Silas Pittman, standing, chats with Favian Aceves moments before a free kick opportunity in the second half. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Eagles were turned away on several scoring opportunities over the rest of the first half with McGaughy coming up with numerous saves. Trying to work with a wet ball in a steady rain that fell throughout the game, McGaughy even took a few extra moments on the ground covering up the ball in such situations just to make sure it wasn’t going to slip away.

Philomath might’ve had a shot at qualifying for a play-in match with a win or even a tie against the highly-ranked Eagles. The Warriors appeared to be more efficient on offense in the second half and created more chances at the net. But Stayton dodged all bullets and finished Oregon West Conference play unbeaten at 8-0-2. Philomath finished fourth in the standings at 4-6.

Ellis lauded the defensive efforts of freshman Jacob Hernandez.

“As a freshman, leading the defense from center back, physically matching up against seniors who are three years older than him,” Ellis said. “Their center backs were poking the ball out of bounds under no pressure. He’s pulling off a Maradona in the mud with guys all around him. His progress this year has been outstanding.”

PHS goalkeeper Jake McGaughy made several saves and center back Jacob Hernandez (No. 14) earned praise from the coach for his defensive work. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The team honored its 10 seniors — Favian Aceves, Sawyer Ainsworth, Lukas Dunn, Gradin Fairbanks, Austin Hunsaker, Owen Thomas, Osvaldo Garcia-Bazan, Aidan Bruce, Mac Robinson and Caleb Garcia. Nine of those 12 started the game and the other three started the second half.

“Overall, the team’s just kind of depressed because this is probably our last game,” Dunn said following the loss. “We’re really close to making the playoffs … if we had won or tied, we’d probably make it in.”

Ellis knew the team would have some growing pains this year with a roster that despite having 10 seniors, was relatively inexperienced. Dunn and the other seniors graduating out of the program will be keeping an eye on their younger counterparts.

“We played really good — this was probably one of our best games,” Dunn said. “We had a lot better performance than last time. I just hope the underclassmen next year will be all about stepping up and maybe making the playoffs.”

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.