Down 12-7 at halftime, the Philomath High School football team needed some sort of spark to overcome Sweet Home.
“We were flat, you could see it in pregame,” Warriors head coach Alex Firth said. “We didn’t really have a lot of energy and it basically came down to explaining it to them — this is it, there’s no playoff, there’s no tomorrow so just come out and lay it out on the line.”
A collection of photos from Philomath High’s 33-20 football victory at Sweet Home on Friday night.
The Warriors responded with 20 points in the third quarter and once they had a nice cushion over the home team, Philomath dealt the death blow on a perfectly executed option pitch that put senior Ty Olson into the end zone.
“We practiced it for one, maybe two days,” Olson said about the offensive wrinkle after the team posted a 33-20 victory. “I freakin’ love the pitch option.”
Midway through the fourth quarter with Sweet Home still within striking distance, the Warriors started to grind things out on the ground — quarterback Kaden Muir with nine yards, Olson with five yards and freshman back Rocco De La Rosa with five yards. After an attempt was stopped at the line of scrimmage for no gain, the Warriors were in a second-and-10 situation.
That’s when Firth brought out the option.
“It’s kinda one of those things where it’s like we’re not going to be a triple-option team — not by any stretch — but it’s enough of a change of pace for the defense if they haven’t seen it and don’t know how to defend it,” Firth said. “I trust Kaden to run it.”
With a Sweet Home defender approaching to make a stop, Muir pitched the ball to his right and Olson did the rest, breaking a tackle and sprinting toward the corner of the end zone for his third touchdown of the night. The Warriors led 33-12 at that point in the contest to back the home Huskies into a corner.
Sweet Home scored on its opening possession with a seven-play drive that covered 67 yards and took just 2:22 off the game clock. The big play came on fourth-and-4 from the 50 when senior quarterback Heath Nichol found senior receiver Brady Nichols for 40 yards. On the next play, Nichol and Nichols hooked up again for a 10-yard touchdown.
Philomath did respond, however, with a quick drive of its own — 65 yards on four plays with the TD coming on a 20-yard jaunt by Muir. The biggest gain of the possession came on a 30-yard pass from Muir to sophomore Hudson Raab. The extra-point kick by Raab put Philomath on top, 7-6.
But that would be it in the first half for Philomath’s points. The Huskies on their ensuing possession drove to the Warriors 23 before turning the ball over on downs. A penalty and a sack doomed PHS on its next drive, which ended with a punt.
Sweet Home scored on a 34-yard TD pass from Nichol to senior Trenton Smith on the final play of the first quarter to regain the lead.
Philomath did some good things in the first half, such as on defense by holding the Huskies to 1.6 yards per rushing attempt and forcing Sweet Home into attempting 26 passes. But the Warriors were trailing on the scoreboard.
“It was a really rough start but I feel like the coaches really helped us out big time,” Olson said. “They made us do some big-time adjustments on defense and we got some good stops. And then on offense, we just did little adjustments and we just kept rolling down the field.”
Muir said the team wanted to focus on the run game.
“Getting a push on the O-line and starting to open up lanes to get our running game going,” Muir said. “That worked pretty well in the second half there.”
In Firth’s mind, the only real adjustments to be made came down to just execution.
Junior Mason Stearns moved onto the offensive line to fill a crucial need for the Warriors. Said Firth, “I think that gave us a little boost down there.”
The Warriors also fixed some issues that had been identified in both backfields — defense and offense.
“We started running that quick motion with our back that I think they weren’t ready for,” Firth added. “So, we made some adjustments. But we basically played better in the second half.”
Philomath scored 26 unanswered points, beginning with a four-yard TD run by Olson to cap a 56-yard, six-play drive to open the third quarter. On the ensuing kickoff, Sweet Home fumbled and Warriors junior Hayden Fuller recovered to give the ball right back to PHS.
Six plays later, the Warriors were back in the end zone. On the touchdown, Muir powered his way to a 1-yard score on a run.
Philomath stretched the lead to 27-12 with 1:34 left in the third when Muir hit Olson out of the backfield on what turned out to be a 21-yard touchdown. It was at this point in the game that the Huskies started to show frustration with officials nailing them with multiple flags. In fact, two Sweet Home players ended up getting ejected from the game for back-to-back unsportsmanlike penalties.
After the previously mentioned TD on the option, Sweet Home had to work fast to try to pull out a miracle. The Huskies came through with a drive that covered 52 yards on just three plays — the score coming on a 24-yard pass from Nichol to junior wideout Deacon Bachand.
Philomath milked the clock after the Huskies’ final TD with eight straight running plays. Olson, Muir and De La Rosa all had carries. The Warrior drive ended when another attempt at the option didn’t turn out so good with a bad pitch that turned into a fumble. Sweet Home fell on the ball but little time remained for the Huskies to do much.
Philomath had success running the ball with 211 yards on the ground on 41 attempts. Muir and Olson led the way with 89 and 73 yards, respectively, and as a team, the Warriors averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Muir completed 10 of 14 passes for 117 yards.
On defense, Philomath limited Sweet Home to 56 rushing yards on 20 carries and in the second half, gave up only 100 yards of total offense. The Huskies struggled on third down during the game, converting on just 1 of 11, although Sweet Home did much better on fourth down at 4 for 7.
Nichol completed 17 of 37 passes for 224 yards and three TDs for the Huskies.
Philomath played the game without one of its top players in senior Ty May, who sat out with a sore shoulder.
Following a postgame chat with coaches in one of the end zones, Philomath players shared kind words, hugged and posed for photos as reality set in on a season that had ended.
‘I thought we had a really bright future but it’s alright … this is the end of the season for us,” Olson said. “It’s been up and down but it’s been good.”
Philomath finishes with a 3-6 record overall and 2-4 in Special District 3. The team won its final two games with last week’s result being 35-6 over Klamath Union.
“We finished on a high note and like Coach (Will) Love said (in postgame), we finally started to get stuff working there at the end,” Firth said. “The guys started to understand what they were supposed to do. And frankly, we were playing teams that have comparable roster sizes to us.”
The victory was Philomath’s first on the road since a 35-0 victory over Willamina on Oct. 8, 2021.
Sweet Home finishes with records of 3-6 overall, 1-5 in league play.