Warwick Bushnell (10) and Rocco De La Rossa (7) celebrate a first-half touchdown in Philomath's 41-17 win Friday night at Cottage Grove. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

COTTAGE GROVE — In a game that started a half-hour late and featured big plays by both teams, Philomath High moved to 2-1 on the season with a 41-17 victory Friday night at Cottage Grove’s Herald White Stadium.

The Warriors and Lions combined for 750 yards of total offense — Philomath primarily through the air and Cottage Grove mostly on the ground. In the end, the visitors just had too much firepower, building a 28-3 lead in the first half and dodging a lot of bullets in the second half to pick up the win.

Junior quarterback Caleb Russell is putting up passing numbers unseen for a decade in the PHS program. Against the Lions, he completed 16 of 28 for 327 yards and four touchdowns.

“I think we’re solid and our passing game is pretty good,” Russell said after throwing for four TDs for the second straight week. “We need to work on our running game a little to open up more passing and just having a running game is nice so we need more of that for sure.”

Russell, who now has nine TD throws in three games, had plenty of targets and those weapons were on display in the win over Cottage Grove. Sophomore CD Nuno and junior Warwick Bushnell each had 100-plus yards receiving, juniors Logan Matthews and Hudson Raab had catches of 20-plus yards and both senior Kaden Muir and sophomore Rocco De La Rosa each had two receptions out of the backfield.

PHS quarterback Caleb Russell threw for 327 yards and four touchdowns against the Lions. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

“In the first game I was a little nervous but now after these last couple of games, I feel a lot more comfortable,” Russell said. “We’ve got athletes out there and that’s why I love throwing it.”

Nuno had five catches for 116 yards and a touchdown and Bushnell hauled in five balls for 101 yards and two scores. And De La Rosa was a triple threat by scoring touchdowns on a reception in the first, a run up the middle in the second and on an 81-yard fumble return in the fourth.

As a team, Philomath averaged an exceptional 20.4 yards per reception.

“Caleb, he’s doing great and we have really good receivers,” Bushnell said. “We’re always doing our best to get open and I just feel honestly one-on-one, we’re all such good athletes that we can make a play.”

Warriors receiver CD Nuno hauls in a pass in the third quarter for a 45-yard touchdown. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Both of Bushnell’s TDs came in the second quarter as Philomath built a 28-3 lead going into halftime. The scores came on catches of 12 and 5 yards on similar “whip” routes where the receiver comes off the line and after about three steps in, makes a quick turn out.

“I knew I was faster than the guys (defenders) and they played really inside so I was able to just outrun them,” Bushnell said. “It was just a good feeling to look up and see the ball coming my way and then turn around and it was open grass.”

Firth said Cottage Grove’s defensive scheme with an eight-man box prompted the Warriors to call a lot of pass plays.

“I thought the line did really well against the blitz,” Firth said. “They held up pretty well in pass protection and Caleb played well.”

But even with the passing successes seen in the game, there were also missed opportunities.

“There were other plays to be made and we dropped balls and overthrew receivers that were open,” Firth said. “It’s miscommunication so we’ve just got to clean it up.”

Philomath’s Rocco De La Rosa picks up a Cottage Grove fumble and then runs 81 yards for Philomath’s final touchdown with 5:06 left in the game. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The game kicked off 30 minutes late with Philomath’s bus blowing a tire on Interstate 5 near Coburg. Varsity players ended up hitching a ride to the game on the cheer team’s bus.

Philomath scored on its second possession late in the first quarter on Nuno’s 11-yard TD reception. Bushnell’s two TDs in the second and De La Rosa’s 2-yard running score helped the Warriors to a 28-3 lead at the half.

In the third, Cottage Grove saw success running the ball and junior quarterback Gavin Grogan had TDs of 20 and 22 yards. Nuno’s 45-yard reception made it 34-10 in the third.

De La Rosa had a huge fourth quarter on defense with an interception and the long fumble return. On the latter, a snap sailed over the head of the QB and Philomath’s defense swarmed to the loose ball. De La Rosa was able to pick it up and make the 81-yard sprint to the end zone.

Overall, Philomath simply had more weapons and athletes for Cottage Grove to handle, which was reflected in the final score. But the Lions moved the ball on the Warrior defense to the tune of 347 yards and had the upper hand in the second half. Junior running back Clayton DeWitt had 179 yards rushing and Grogan finished with 102.

“We didn’t play our best but we won — it’s a big one for us and now we’re 2-1 on the season,” Russell said. “It’s not horrible but we didn’t play to our best ability.”

Running back Grant Niemann breaks free for Philomath’s longest running play of the night with a pickup of 39 yards in the fourth quarter. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Bushnell sensed a lack of something heading into the contest.

“On the way here, our bus tire pops and we have all this going on and I just feel like people weren’t into it in the very beginning,” Bushnell said. “And we knew going in that they weren’t a very good team, so I feel like everyone was kind of half-stepping.”

Firth said the team didn’t have a good week of practice leading up to the game.

“I told them on Wednesday, if you half-step against anybody, it’s going to be ugly, so we came out half-stepping and it was ugly,” Firth said. “I mean, it’s a win and I’m happy about that but we can’t continue to do this against better competition.”

Junction City represents that better competition this coming Friday with its visit to Clemens Field. The Tigers are off to a 3-0 start with one of those wins coming over a Crook County team (28-10)  that the Warriors lost to in Week 1. In its most recent outing, Junction City beat Stayton, 48-13.

Said Firth, “There’s a lot better competition the next four weeks so we have to have better focus in practice and we just have to clean up a lot of stuff.”

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.

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