A dominating performance on defense, a number of big plays on offense and exceptional special teams helped the Philomath High School football team win its season opener Friday night over Valley Catholic, 52-0.
The Warriors took advantage all night of favorable field position with the longest touchdown drive covering only 51 yards. Junior tailback David Griffith scored three touchdowns, senior quarterback Caleb Jensen ran for two scores and threw for two others, and sophomore quarterback Kaden Muir ran one in.
The defense also contributed six points on Ty May’s scoop-and-score and Isaac Lattin hit a 40-yard field goal and was good on all seven of his extra point attempts.
All around, a satisfying first outing for Philomath.
“I’m happy but I’m not satisfied,” first-year coach Alex Firth said. “I’m glad for the kids and I think it’s a huge momentum thing for us but we still have work to do to get to take that next step and get to the great level, if you will.”
The Warriors were in control of the game from the beginning. Valley Catholic’s game-opening possession ended with a failed fake punt to give Philomath field position at the Valiants’ 38. The Warriors pounded the ball right at the home team with several Griffith runs, including on a key third-and-3 from the 15.
On second-and-goal from the 11, Jensen sprinted around the left side of VC’s defense for the first touchdown.
“The offense had flashes of brilliance and then we’d have breakdowns, so we still have some serious room for improvement on offense,” Firth said. “But it got better — run blocking got better, so it was a little bit of what we saw at the jamboree but we’re getting better. Incrementally we’re improving.”
Valley Catholic shot itself in the foot on its second possession with three penalties hindering its efforts but the Philomath defense also came up with a sack. On fourth-and-28 from their own 7, the Valiants got off just a 13-yard punt and the Warriors started the ensuing drive at the top of the red zone from the 20.
Griffith scored a 19-yard TD on a second-and-9 screen pass from Jensen, bullying his way into the end zone for the last few yards. It was the first of three scores for Griffith.
“He’s quick, he can run through contact, he can change direction, scored on a screen pass, I think we lobbed one up to him and he scored,” Firth said. “He’s definitely the featured back right now and played really well.”
Valley Catholic’s third possession was much of the same for the Valiants and Philomath started its next drive at the 30. The Warriors started the series with a 21-yard pass from Jensen to a diving May for first-and-goal from the 9. But the drive stalled from there with Philomath losing yards back to the 23. However, Lattin got the team three points by booting a 40-yard field goal for a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Later in the quarter, Philomath increased the advantage to 24-0 with a 7-yard touchdown run by Griffith. The Warriors had the short field once again with the drive starting at the 24. Prior to the Griffith TD, Jensen picked up 16 yards on third-and-9 with a fake up the middle and a designed run to the left side.
“I think we did some good things in the passing game. He’s really good on his feet when he is running around but we can’t do that every time we throw the ball,” Firth said. “We missed some wide-open guys; it’s just going to be an incremental thing for us in the passing game. We just have to continue to work at it and get better.”
Philomath didn’t allow Valley Catholic to move the chains until late in the second quarter. Even then, the Valiants got their first first down of the night on a defensive holding penalty. But the home team’s drive stalled once again with a key defensive play coming on a tackle for loss by senior Joseph Choi. On fourth down, Valley Catholic was in punt formation but an intense rush disrupted those plans and an attempt to dump off a pass proved to be unsuccessful.
Philomath took over at its own 49 and moved the ball quickly for a 31-0 lead. The touchdown came on a 14-yard Jensen run.
The Valiants attempted an onside kick to open the second half but Philomath sophomore Kallen Albin simply fell on the ball for possession. On the first play from scrimmage, Jensen and Griffith teamed up on a pass play that covered 50 yards for a 38-0 lead.
On the home team’s next possession, Lattin came up with an interception and returned the ball to the 6. Muir, who had come in at quarterback, scored up the middle on the next play.
The Warriors’ final touchdown came from the defense when May picked up a Valley Catholic fumble at the 32 and sprinted into the end zone. Later in the quarter, Muir gave Philomath another takeaway with an interception.
“It was a dominant defensive effort,” Firth said. “The ‘backers were flying around making plays, the D-line did a good job allowing them to fly around and create pressure … I was really happy with the defense. … The secondary held up, too.”
The game went to a running clock early in the second half when Philomath went ahead by 35-plus points.
“I think there’s a massive boost for the kids. It just validates what we did in the offseason and what the coaches have been teaching and what we’ve been doing in practice,” Firth said. “It shows them that if they do what we ask them to do, we can have some real success. There’s still room to grow. We’re not even close to reaching our potential.”
Philomath got a lot of its younger players into the game in the fourth quarter.
“We had a lot of the younger kids come in and they weren’t scared,” Firth said. “They made plays, made tackles, I mean good tackles … It really speaks well to the future of the program.
“I think that to me, that was probably the most satisfying thing — seeing those kids come in and take the opportunity and play well,” he added.
For example, Firth mentioned the contributions of freshmen Grant Niemann and Hudson Raab. Niemann came in late in the game and had some good runs out of the backfield. Raab effectively handled Philomath’s kickoff duties.
Philomath will take a 1-0 record into a game this coming Friday in Salem against Blanchet Catholic. The Cavaliers opened the season with a 10-8 victory over Regis.
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