SWEET HOME — There was little doubt about where Philomath High needed to control the game: up front on defense.
Going against Sweet Home running back Wade Paulus — a downhill power runner if there ever was one — controlling the line of scrimmage was going to be crucial in the 4A playoff game at Husky Stadium.
Paulus got his, but he also left the field choking back tears after the Warriors avenged its 2011 play-in loss by seizing a 35-26 victory on Friday night.
“Defensive line is where we had to play today,” defensive lineman Matt Ficek said. “No. 24 is a big man, but we did our job. All of our linemen did their job today.”
Sweet Home’s star running back gave his all and it wasn’t enough. Paulus gained 174 yards on 35 carries.
“Yeah you know, we played our hearts out and I wish for a different outcome,” Paulus said between sobs. “I’m just really happy I got to play this season with this team and I really enjoyed it.”
Philomath will play conference rival Cascade (9-1) in the quarterfinals next week.
The Warriors (9-2) never trailed as Matt Larrabee ran for 137 yards and three scores on 11 carries and Derek Nash threw for 113 and a TD, but it was a failed two-point conversion and two fourth-down plays that decided the contest.
Sweet Home (7-3) pulled within 21-20 late in the third quarter when Quin Wise recovered Paulus’ fumble in the end zone, but Jacob Smith missed the conversion kick.
The Huskies appeared to have PHS stopped with a fourth-and-8 at the 40. The Warriors executed the fake perfectly on a slightly broken play.
Nash, lined up as Ben DeSaulnier’s protector, read the defense and threw over the top to Cole Chambers for a momentum busting 31-yard gain.
“They knew it was coming, but they thought we were going to throw it up the seam,” Nash said. “But I threw it to Cole and he made a great catch.”
Chambers didn’t expect the ball to come his way.
“I was a little surprised, in the huddle they were saying Derek was passing to Joe Noble or Matt Larrabee, so at the line I was just saying I’m going to run my guy off,” Chambers said. “The next thing I know I look up and the ball is coming my way.”
Two plays later, Nash hit Chambers from 29 yards out for a 28-20 advantage with 10:50 remaining.
That gave the Warriors the necessary margin, but the Huskies would not go quietly into the offseason.
Sweet Home fashioned a 12-play, 65-yard drive that gobbled up the clock. Quarterback Cole Horner got the TD on a 3-yard run with 4:24 remaining and the Huskies had to attempt the two-point conversion.
They ran trickery, with flanker Colton Holly — who had a 24-yard completion on fourth-and-11 during the drive on a similar play to the left — sprinted right with the toss, looking to throw for the end zone. As he cocked his arm, he dropped the ball, swiftly scooped it up and tried to run for it.
DeSaulnier met him first at the 2 and Sean Carlson joined the tackle at the 1.
“Yeah, it was kind of a broken down play,” DeSaulnier said. “I read the guy coming around and it kind of looked like he was going to run, so I stepped up and it worked out for me.
“It was kind of a wild play, it looked like they had a guy open in the end zone, then he bobbled it and tried to run for it. That was our chance to make a stop right there.”
Trenton Looper covered the onside kick, and Philomath set about running out the clock. On fourth-and-1 at the 31, Larrabee scooted to the end zone for the final margin.
“Matt Larrabee making that sweep just put it away right there,” Chambers said.
Philomath, which lost to the Huskies 26-20 in a 2011 play-in game, took the lead on the first play from scrimmage. Larrabee broke through the SH defense and went 65 yards.
Sweet Home rode Paulus to the PHS 18, where he slipped down on a fourth-and-4 play with 5:04 left in the first quarter. The Warriors promptly marched 82 yards for a 14-0 lead on Larrabee’s 20 yard run.
The Huskies did get it to 14-7 at the half on Paulus’ 8-yard TD run, then tied it to open the third quarter, using a short field to make it 14-14 on Horner’s fourth-down pass to Mitch Keenon. Philomath, however, responded on its next drive for a 21-14 lead.
“We knew it was going to be tough, knew it would be close, we’re pretty even teams,” Paulus said. “We all played hard.”
But the Huskies were the one taking the sad walk out of Husky Stadium, while the Warriors celebrated with friends and family and planned for a rematch with Cascade, a 40-21 winner over Douglas.
Philomath 35, Sweet Home 26
PHILOMATH 14 0 7 14 — 35
SWEET HOME 0 7 13 6 — 26
PHS: Matt Larrabee 65 run (kick failed), 11:41
PHS: Larrabee 20 run (Joe Noble run), 1:39
SH: Wade Paulus 8 run (Jacob Smith kick), 8:14
SH: Mitch Keenon 9 pass from Cole Horner (Smith kick), 8:31
PHS: Austin Brown 2 run (Larrabee kick), 3:45
SH: Quin Wise recovered fumble in end zone (kick failed), 2:08
PHS: Cole Chambers 29 pass from Derek Nash (Larrabee kick), 10:50
SH: C. Horner 3 run (run failed), 4:24
PHS: Larrabee 31 run (Larrabee kick), 2:18
RUSHING: Philomath — Larrabee 11-137, Noble 6-8, Brown 8-50, DeSaulnier 2-5. Sweet Home — Paulus 35-174, Smith 4-21, Olson 1-11, Knight 8-21, C. Horner 2-(-3)
PASSING: Philomath — Nash 7-10-1 113; Sweet Home — C. Horner 4-8-0 70, Holly 1-1-0 24
RECEIVING: Philomath — DeSaulnier 3-27, Parsons 1-21, Chambers 2-60, Noble 1-5. Sweet Home — Keenon 4-70, Holly 1-24