The Bulldogs' offense was led by junior running back Cyrus Mathews, who made his season debut on Friday.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Culver running back Cyrus Mathews, with ball, had a touchdown in the first half of his season debut for the Bulldogs.The Culver football team fell to Santiam on Friday, losing 48-16 in their first 2A Special District 2 matchup. The Bulldogs had a difficult time stopping the Wolverines' rushing tandem of Trenton Stafford and Quentin Clark, who combined for a total of six touchdowns on the ground.

Despite the loss, it was Culver's highest-scoring game of the season to date, thanks to a first-half rushing touchdown from Cyrus Mathews and a Logan Macy touchdown pass to Ryan Sotelo on the game's final play.

"Offensively, it's probably been our best game overall," said Culver head coach Brian Silbernagel after the game.

"It didn't help that we had four turnovers," Silbernagel conceded. "Then we had penalties that stalled out some drives, but it's probably the most yards passing and rushing combined on the year. So, that's a positive thing."

That offense was led in large part by the efforts of Mathews, who championed the Bulldogs' running game. Silbernagel went to the junior early and often, as he pounded his way through the Santiam defensive line. It was Mathews' first game of the season after joining the team during non-league play and fulfilling his practice requirements.

"He's obviously going to become more and more of a player for us," said Silbernagel of his powerful back. "Cyrus did a good job. He ran the ball hard tonight, took care of the ball." Though Mathews fumbled on his first carry of the season, he was mistake-free after that.

As for the Culver passing game, despite three interceptions from Macy, the junior quarterback did find his footing at the end of the game.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Ryan Sotelo, with ball, scored Culver's second touchdown on a 30-yard reception at the end of the game.After connecting with wide receiver Ryan Sotelo to put the Bulldogs on the 30-yard line during their final offensive drive, the pair hooked up again for a touchdown on the very next play. Macy then found senior Weston Hershburger in the end zone for the two-point conversion as time expired.

"He hit receivers," Silbernagel said of Macy. "There was one time tonight when he should've went somewhere else with that football, on that tip play. Beyond that, he threw the ball pretty well tonight. He made the right decisions, read the coverage. He played pretty good, I think."

Silbernagel also praised his offensive line for their pass protection, not only in the Santiam game, but throughout the entire season so far.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Culver head coach praised his offensive line for their play, especially in protecting quarterback Logan Macy."The one thing that we've hung our hats on in the three games we've had is our pocket," said the coach. "Our protection and our pocket have been really good for our quarterback. It's under three sacks on the year so far when we stay in the pocket. Our offensive line is doing a tremendous job with our pass protection."

Despite the offense starting to gel, the numerous turnovers put extra pressure on the Culver defense, which already had a hard time containing the Santiam rushing attack.

Santiam got the scoring started early after recovering the fumble on Culver's opening drive. On the Wolverines' second play, Quentin Jackson took the ball off tackle for a 30-yard score, and the two-point conversion gave the Wolverines an 8-0 lead just 48 seconds into the game.

The Bulldogs drove the ball into Santiam territory on the following drive, but a fourth-down pass from Macy to Hershburger came up incomplete. A few players later, Jackson gave Santiam another touchdown when he broke free for a 52-yard run with four minutes to play in the first quarter.

In the second quarter, it was Stafford's turn to take over in the Santiam run game. The bulky junior pounded his way through the Bulldog defense for three more Wolverine touchdowns before halftime. While Mathews got Culver on the board during the second quarter, the theme of Santiam's dominance on offense continued into the beginning of the third quarter. On the Wolverines' opening possession of the half, Stafford ran in a fourth score to put the score at 48-8 just 30 seconds in.

The scoring pace slowed down after that, with the teams playing to a stalemate for most of the third and fourth quarters until Culver's touchdown on the last play.

"They're a good team," said Silbernagel of the Wolverines. "You know they're going to run the ball all night and maybe throw the ball three times, and that's what it was. They were more physical on the edges that we were."

That physicality was not limited to the Santiam offensive line, either. Running backs Stafford and Jackson used their own strength to bowl over Culver defenders on multiple occasions.

"That No. 9 running back is a good back," the Culver coach said of Jackson. "(Stafford) runs hard, (Santiam's AJ Weaver) runs hard. On the edges, we just gave it up. We're not big-bodied right now, and we're a little young at those positions."

"Just a little undersized for them," Silbernagel added.

Following the loss, Culver sits at 0-3 as they continue play in the 2A Special District 2 league. Because their canceled game last week with Warrenton was a non-league game, it does not count as a forfeit against the Bulldogs. Regardless, the team is still hunting for its first win on the season.

When asked how to keep the team's spirits up despite the slow start, Silbernagel said the team has discussed it together.

"We talked about it," he said. "We are a young team. We have just two seniors."

"We've got to challenge ourselves to get better each week," Silbernagel continued. "That's our goal. If we do that, then down the road at some point, we're either going to start winning football games or things are going to turn in our favor."

"The thing is," he added, "we've got to improve every week. That just comes from showing up to practice and working."

The Bulldogs with have a chance to show that improvement on Friday, Oct. 1, as they host league foes Salem Academy (1-3) with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Culver Athletic Complex. The Crusaders just picked up their first win, notching a 14-8 victory at home over Colton this past Friday night.

Santiam 48, Culver 16

at Culver High School

S — 16 24 8 0 — 48

C — 0 8 0 8 — 16

S (11:12 1Q) — Quentin Jackson 30-yard run (Jackson run good)

S (03:54 1Q) — Jackson 52-yard run (Trenton Stafford run good)

S (09:30 2Q) — Stafford 22-yard run (Stafford run good)

C (05:59 2Q) — Cyrus Mathews 5-yard run (Logan Macy pass to Weston Hershburger good)

S (02:03 2Q) — Stafford 4-yard run (Stafford run good)

S (00:09 2Q) — Stafford 2-yard run (Gage Twede pass to Nolan Ohrt good)

S (11:30 3Q) — Stafford 3-yard run (Stafford run good)

C (00:00 4Q) — Macy 30-yard pass to Ryan Sotelo (Macy pass to Weston Hershburger good)

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