NORTH BEND — The start was ugly, but the finish was gorgeous.

The Philomath Warriors, in just their second football game since the end of the 2015 season, marched right down the field in the game’s first drive to take a 7-0 lead as the defending state champion North Bend Bulldogs scrambled for answers. But 54 unanswered points later, the Bulldogs walked away with their 13th straight win after a 54-7 throttling of the Warriors on Friday night.

“I think part of being the defending state champion is everyone’s gonna give you their best shot. They’re gonna give you their best game,” North Bend head coach Gary Prince said. “So I think that’s what we’ve seen. We tend to show a lack of focus and a lack of consistency. I don’t know if that’s our youth or if I have to do things differently to help them understand the importance of being focused and making consistent plays.”

That slow start kept Philomath in contention for the first half and it was largely due to Bulldog mistakes and penalties. Philomath got the ball first and scored in just four plays, capped by a Dakota Kantor 12-yard run.

The strong junior running back was the focus of North Bend’s defensive effort after rushing for around 160 yards in Philomath’s Week 1 win over Junction City, and Bulldogs defensive coordinator Ryan Goll wanted to hold him under 60. They held him to 24.

“Ryan Goll and Joe Bollig they did a great job with the game plan,” Prince said. “That was his goal and he challenged the kids down in the locker room before the game. Got the kids ready, man. They did a great job stopping the run.”

Early on, though, Kantor was on pace to break that goal rushing for 10 yards on three carries and the touchdown on Philomath’s first drive. North Bend didn’t help itself much by punting after a holding call eliminated a first down run by Jake Hamblet on fourth and 1 from the 50.

But North Bend forced a fumble on Philomath’s ensuing drive, recovered by Hunter Bierce. Divenson Willis, who finished with 92 yards on 11 carries with three scores, wasted no time getting North Bend on the board, scoring from 29 yards out and tying the score with a little more than seven minutes left in the first quarter.

Here’s where things started to get a bit dicey for North Bend. The Bulldogs forced a quick three-and-out, but fumbled four plays later when Hamblet, who rushed for 102 yards on 18 carries with a score, lost control of the football after a 5-yard run on first down. Philomath quarterback/defensive back Kenan Conner recovered the loose ball, but Philomath again punted after three plays.

Teron Cantanzaro muffed the ensuing punt but fell on it to keep possession for North Bend. but Gio Byers lost the handle seven plays later and Conner fell on it again, killing a second consecutive North Bend drive and giving Philomath some momentum, again, late in the first quarter.

“I don’t know what it is. We just showed up a little flat,” Hamblet said of the slow start. “When the competition’s getting harder and harder, you gotta keep showing up and putting in the work early on.

“The fumbles were a big issue, but we realized the things we needed to fix, and we fixed ‘em.”

And here’s where everything changed.

Coleman Compton recovered a Tony Rath fumble at the North Bend 12, and Hamblet and Willis combined for 41 yards on the ground and Byers found Cole Langmead on a 47-yard catch-and-run to quickly get downfield. Willis pushed North Bend ahead with a 1-yard plunge, his second touchdown of the day and ultimately the winning score. Philomath didn’t have a first down for the remainder of the first half.

Byers (5-for-9, 150 yards, TD) later hit Hunter Bierce on a skinny post and the big junior tight end bulled his way into the end zone for a 31-yard score and a 19-7 halftime lead.

“We went downstairs and talked about some things and played the football game I thought they could in the second half,” Prince said.

In the second, North Bend played how it hoped to start. Byers capped the second half’s opening drive with a 5-yard touchdown run, then North Bend pooched its ensuing kickoff and Philomath misplayed it, allowing Orion Osborn to fly in and recover the live ball at the Philomath 30 yard line.

Four plays later, Hamblet plunged in for a 1-yard score and North Bend scored two touchdowns within a minute of each other to lead 33-7. As a team, North Bend rushed for 368 yards, averaging more than 7 yards per carry.

“They run that 4-3 front and it’s basically a 1-on-1 with our center (on their) linebacker,” Hamblet said. “So we were just getting good looks and our line was a great front compared to last week. They really just showed up and helped us running backs and Gio out.”

Yet another Philomath three-and-out led to a three-play drive ending in a Willis 2-yard plunge, his third on the day, and a 40-7 advantage.

Following a Byers pick of Conner, Kaleb Messner scored from short distance and North Bend led 47-7. In the fourth, freshman Coleman Compton darted in and out of defenders for a 32-yard touchdown run on his first carry of the evening.

The slow start was some reason for concern for Prince, but the finish was what he sought.

“I think the thing I’m getting to learn about these guys is they have a strong desire to compete,” Prince said. “If I’ve learned anything, they have the potential to be a very, very, very good football team. I think we’re seeing some growing pains with the penalties and the turnovers. I’m trying to be understanding that these guys don’t have a lot of varsity time, but sooner or later we gotta start playing varsity-caliber football. The sooner we do that the better we’ll be.”

North Bend completes its nonleague schedule with a trip to Cascade to play the Cougars. North Bend won last year’s matchup in North Bend 49-7.

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