Senior Ty May scores on a 65-yard touchdown after hauling in this pass from junior Kaden Muir. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Within the span of 2-1/2 minutes in the second quarter during Friday’s season opener, the Philomath High School football team provided a hint of some of the things they hope to accomplish on both sides of the ball this season.

Visiting Crook County was threatening to strike first in a scoreless tie by driving the ball inside the Philomath 10. But on a second-and-7 play, senior Giovanni Abdelsayed stripped the ball out of the hands of the Cowboys’ running back and senior Ty May gathered it in for the fumble recovery.

The Warriors took over on offense and converted on a third-and-14 with a 27-yard strike from junior quarterback Kaden Muir to sophomore receiver Warwick Bushnell. A couple of plays later, PHS took advantage of a mismatch that left the 6-foot-6 May open over the middle on a 65-yard touchdown.

An effective stop on defense followed by a dynamic play on offense — and the Warriors maintained the 7-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.

But in the third quarter, Crook County found its rhythm on offense with an effective running game mixed in with the occasional pass completion. And on defense, the Cowboys started to overtake Philomath at the line of scrimmage to wreak havoc in the backfield and not allow the quarterback much time to execute plays.

The Cowboys put up 21 points in the third and added a field goal in the fourth for what ended up as a 24-7 victory.

Warriors sophomore Warwick Bushnell picks up key yards on a scoring drive in the first half. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Firth said Crook County made the necessary adjustments to start moving the ball better in the second half while intensifying its attack to put more pressure on the Philomath defense.

“We had a little bit of trouble dealing with that and that’s on me,” PHS coach Alex Firth said. “I’ve got to do some stuff schematically to deal with that pressure going forward because it’s not going to change.”

Philomath struggled to 159 total yards in the contest — 102 of which came on the lone scoring drive (possible because of penalty yardage). Crook County, meanwhile, had 357 yards of total offense with a balanced 196 on the ground and 161 through the air.

“They were just bringing pressure and we weren’t dealing with it and that’s the reality of what was happening,” Firth said.

In the second half, the Warriors started to lose a step or two with a lack of energy.

“I think we’re out of shape,” said May, a linebacker on defense and a tight end on offense. “I mean, we didn’t have much left in the tank, you know, and we’re going to work hard this coming week to definitely get in condition so we can play like that first half the whole time. Our defense really fell off in that second half.”

Firth had a similar assessment.

“Frankly, we’re thin and we just started running out of gas,” Firth said. “I mean, it’s the reality of what was going on when there’s 25, 26 kids suited up. So we just started running out of fresh bodies.”

PHS junior Jacob Demers runs downfield after an interception. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Philomath’s highlight of the evening was that pretty 65-yard pass play from Muir to May. As mentioned, May recovered a fumble at the 10-yard line to give the Warriors possession. But the ensuing drive had a rough start with an incomplete pass and 1-yard run on second down. Then on third-and-9, Philomath backed up five yards with a delay of game penalty.

On third-and-14, Warwick broke off that 27-yard reception to move the chains. Muir then hit junior Preston Kramer for nine yards to set up a second-and-1. That’s when Muir and May connected.

“We ran a skinny on our slant and Ty ran it really well, it was wide open,” Firth said. “Kaden saw him and got the ball to him.”

May believes the TD was the longest of his high school career.

“I don’t think I’ve ever scored a touchdown from that far before,” May said. “Coach saw the mismatch that we had and saw the safety rolled over the top and I just cut it inside and Kaden threw a perfect ball. Kudos to Kaden because it wouldn’t have been a touchdown without him.”

Crook County’s next drive again went deep into PHS territory down to the 14 but Philomath came up with another takeaway. This time, junior Jacob Demers caught a ball that had been batted into the air at the line of scrimmage and he rambled 38 yards downfield to provide another spark for the home team.

Philomath had just over two minutes to try to add to its lead before halftime. But the Warriors only went backwards with two penalties for 15 yards in losses to go along with a Crook County sack. It was fourth-and-29 when Muir punted the ball away.

Senior Chad Russell and senior Ty May sack Crook County’s quarterback. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

In the third quarter, Crook Country took control. Senior Palmer Smith started to find his groove in the running game and scored on a 54-yard jaunt to the end zone to tie the score. After a three-and-out for the Warriors, Crook County scored another touchdown with Smith getting in from two yards out just one play after senior teammate Kaleb Goozee had gone 21 yards.

Philomath had another three-and-out and the Cowboys kept the momentum going with their third touchdown of the quarter. Junior receiver Edward Freauff scored on a 40-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Gavin Sandoval.

Sophomore kicker Gabe Love converted all three of his PAT attempts and booted a 27-yard field goal in the fourth. Smith, meanwhile, finished with 133 yards rushing for the Cowboys.

Firth said Philomath will just need to get back to work on Monday.

“We’ve got to have that trust between players and coaches,” Firth said. “I told them there’s stuff that I need to work on to help them.”

Can Philomath improve in the areas of conditioning and schematics in a week’s time?

“Probably the identity of our team will change a little bit based on what we saw and trying to get our players in a more favorable position,” Firth said. “It won’t be like a wholesale change but there will be some things that we try to do to take a little pressure off the quarterback to help him out a little bit.”

Philomath will head north to Milwaukie next week and step up in Class 5A to face Putnam. The Kingsmen opened their season with a 28-7 win over Milwaukie.

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.