Kaden Muir scored both of Philomath's touchdowns on a 73-yard interception return and two-yard run on the final play of the first half. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Over a span of just 7 minutes in the second quarter on Friday night, the Stayton High School football team put up 27 points on the Clemens Field scoreboard. The visiting team’s scoring explosion seemed as though it would be too much for the Warriors to overcome. It would take a monumental effort to climb out of a hole that deep.

Ultimately, the lead did hold up for the Eagles in a 33-14 victory but not before Philomath put together a serious challenge. The Warriors (1-4 overall, 1-2 Special District 3) scored two touchdowns over the final 89 seconds of the first half to get back into the game and in the second half, Philomath had opportunities to cut much deeper into the deficit.

“There were some good plays and there were some bad plays, you know, it’s just a function of we make too many bad plays and it comes back to bite us,” PHS coach Alex Firth said. “We dig ourselves out of that hole and then we can just never get over the hump.”

Junior quarterback and linebacker Kaden Muir sparked the team with 1:29 left in the first half when he came up with an interception and scored on a 73-yard return. The Warriors then attempted an onside kick and senior Ty May fell on the ball to give possession right back to Philomath. On the final play of the half, Muir powered into the end zone on a 2-yard TD run to complete the momentum shift to the home team.

“We still had some mistakes that we needed to iron out but we definitely had the momentum going into the half,” senior lineman Giovanni Abdelsayed said.

On the interception, Muir was keeping both the receiver and quarterback in his sights, anticipating a slant coming back inside. He dropped back and positioned himself to make the pick.

“As soon as I saw my lead blockers in front, I knew I was going all the way,” Muir said.

It was his second interception return for a touchdown this season.

Sophomore Hudson Raab had four catches for 31 yards. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Following May’s onside kick recovery, Philomath set up shop at midfield. Senior running back Ty Olson picked up five yards on a run and Muir followed with back-to-back completions to sophomore Hudson Raab to move the chains.

With 42 seconds left, Muir connected with sophomore Warwick Bushnell over the middle for 18 yards. Two plays later with 21 seconds on the clock, Stayton (3-2 overall, 2-1 Special District 3) was whistled for pass interference and Philomath was inside the 10-yard line. Muir ran for seven more yards to put the Warriors in first-and-goal from the 2. However, there were only 7 seconds left.

After an incompletion and just 2.5 seconds remaining, Philomath needed to figure out how to get into the end zone. Firth took a little bit of a chance by running straight ahead.

“We were running a motion, we were unbalanced really hard to one side, so they had shifted out to the unbalanced side, so it opened the middle up and I trust Kaden to run it,” Firth said. “Yeah, it’s risky, but throwing up in the end zone, maybe we get one more play or maybe we get sacked or something and it’s a negative play. I think the thing is, when they’re leveraged out wide like that, just run it up the middle and sometimes it’s advantageous.”

Philomath got the ball to start the third quarter and a touchdown out of the locker room would’ve been huge. The Warriors stumbled, however, with a personal foul that backed them up 15 yards. The possession ended with a 33-yard punt.

On Stayton’s ensuing drive, Warriors freshman CD Nuno got an interception and the Warriors were right back in business. But again, mistakes hurt and killed the possession — first on a 10-yard holding penalty on first down and two plays later, on an interception that resulted after the ball had bounced off the receiver’s hands.

“The thing is we’re continuing to make mistakes and that’s on me,” Firth said. “We’ve got to figure out what’s going on in terms of the mistakes that we’re making out there.”

Senior running back Ty Olson finds a hole for yardage. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Abdelsayed, Philomath’s big No. 56 who anchors the line, said the team tends to put its head down when bad things happen.

“I think we just need to work on forgetting what happened in the past and just start focusing on this play,” he said. “We made a lot of mental mistakes, you know, things like alignment and stuff like that. It’s the small details and I think once we kinda iron that out, we can make some big gains.”

After the Stayton interception, the Eagles had an opportunity to put the game away with a very short field from 23 yards out. Senior running back Ty Borde, who had 164 yards rushing on the night, immediately broke off a 10-yard gain to the 13.

Philomath didn’t fold, however, and the defense stiffened. On fourth down from the 19, Olson knocked down a pass attempt as the Eagles turned it over on downs.

Two plays later, Muir broke into the clear for a 57-yard run but one of Stayton’s speedier players was able to catch him. The next three plays produced very little and the Eagles got the ball back on downs in what would be a major turning point in the game.

Stayton followed with a 14-play drive that took nearly seven minutes off the clock. Philomath finally ended the possession when Muir sacked the Eagles quarterback on a fourth-and-five play. The Warriors couldn’t move the ball on offense, however, with a three-and-out series. On fourth down, a shanked punt netted a mere 10 yards to give Stayton the short field at the 31.

Four plays later, Borde scored his third touchdown of the evening to put the game out of reach with 4:40 remaining.

The Warriors worked through a scary moment during that string of plays when senior David Griffith went down for several minutes. Although a stretcher was at the ready to carry him off the field, he got up and walked to the sidelines under his own power amid cheers from the Clemens Field crowd.

Said Firth, “We think it’s a concussion but I don’t know, they’re evaluating him.”

Senior Giovanni Abdelsayed anchors the Warriors’ line. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs/Philomath News)

Muir finished with 71 yards rushing and completed 7 of 20 passes for 63 yards while scoring both of the team’s TDs.

“I saw Kaden play hard,” Firth said. “We had that little drive at the end of the first half and we kinda put things together a little bit there. Kaden had the interception for the TD and had another big run down the sidelines … he plays hard.”

The offensive highlight of the evening came on a double-reverse flea flicker that Stayton worked to perfection in the second quarter. On the play, senior quarterback Cody Leming connected with junior Bishop Szmyd on a 64-yard touchdown.

Firth sees needed improvement on both sides of the ball, including finding some sort of consistency on offense.

“We’ll go back to work on Monday and try to figure it out — figure out what we need to do to get better,” he said.

The team will need a top effort next week with a trip to Cascade, which is sitting at 2-0 in league play.

“I think it comes down to just working hard in practice and taking it more seriously,” Abdelsayed said. “Practice how you play and I think once we start working on that, we can start winning some big games.”

Said Muir, “We need to recoup and losing Dave (Griffith) sucks so we need to refocus in practice and try to get more energy going for Cascade.”

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.