The Philomath High boys soccer team is 11-0 this season, the only undefeated team in the 4A classification. But that doesn’t come close to describing how dominant the squad has been.
The top-ranked Warriors have outscored their opponents 49-5 in those 11 games, with an average margin of victory of four goals per game.
The team’s most impressive victory, however, was a 1-0 thriller against Stayton on Sept. 30 on the Eagles’ home pitch. Stayton won the unofficial state championship in 2020-21 and was the runner-up in 2019.
“Last year, Stayton was the best team in 4A. We were the only team to score more than one goal on them,” said Dave Ellis, Philomath’s fourth-year head coach. “The second time we played them they beat us on a lucky own-goal. They were lucky to get out of there with the game and they knew it.”
So when the Warriors and Eagles faced off for the first time this season, 4A bragging rights were on the line, at least temporarily. Ellis said the game could have gone either way.
“I think that game came down to a little bit of luck. Either team that won that game would have been lucky,” Ellis said. “We wonder if we poked the bear, but we match up well against Stayton this year. Hopefully we can get another victory, although I suspect we’ll have to beat them twice more if we’re going to go very far.”
Philomath senior Mark Grimmer scored the only goal in the win over Stayton. He has scored at least once in every game and has 20 goals on the season.
Grimmer said the players viewed the Stayton game as a test.
“That game was incredibly important to us. It really set the tone for how well we think we can do in the future,” Grimmer said. “We knew that if we could hold our own against them, we’re top contenders, definitely, for the title.”
The Warriors struggled through the COVID season with a record of 3-3-1. In 2019, Philomath went 8-7 and lost in the 4A play-in game at Hidden Valley.
This year’s squad is led by four seniors — Grimmer, defender David Bell, midfielder Blaise Pendell, and forward Noah Aynes — along with an unusually strong junior class which has nine players on the varsity roster and several more talented players on the JV roster who are awaiting their opportunity.
“Our senior group is only four (players). They’re all contributing and strong and pulling in, but the talent bubble is in the junior class,” Ellis said.
One of those juniors is goalkeeper Teddy Benbow.
“Our goalkeeper is arguably the best goalkeeper in 4A. He’s made phenomenal progress the last couple of years. Our goalkeeper coach, Evan Munn, who played at Oregon State, has had a significant influence on Teddy’s performance,” Ellis said.
Both Bell and Grimmer said the team’s chemistry is one reason for its success. Bell said everyone worked hard over the summer and the players know they can trust their teammates.
“It’s great to see the guys come together like this. We all get along really well,” Bell said. “The juniors, they’re great. They’re so good.”
Bell noted that nine of the 11 players in the starting lineup are veterans of club soccer. He knows that is not typical, especially for a 4A program.
Ellis said the team’s high soccer intelligence allows him more flexibility as he prepares for each opponent. He said in addition to the club experience, several players benefited from excellent coaching as they came up through the recreational soccer system.
“This group is incredibly smart. We’ve had to make tactical changes in the middle of games to formations that they’ve never played before and they just get on with it,” Ellis said. “They’re all capable, they’re technical, they’re fit, they’re all very smart.”
Ellis recalled the game against Molalla early in the season when the Warriors were struggling to contain two of their attackers.
“I think I changed formation four times in the first half before I found something that works. They boys were able to adjust and adjust and adjust,” Ellis said.
Philomath plays Thursday at Sisters. Their first matchup was one of the Warriors’ closest games this season, a 2-0 victory. That will be followed by the rematch with visiting Stayton (10-1) on Oct. 26.
Bell said that game motivates the team to stay focused.
“We always know that’s looming so we’ve got to keep working hard. We know they’re working hard. We’ve seen their scores against other teams. They’re going to keep putting in that work and we’ve got to keep getting better while they’re getting better,” Bell said.