McNary’s Alex Willeford wraps up a Bruin runner during the Celtics’ 50-14 loss to Barlow High School. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

After a crushing 50-14 loss to Barlow High School and a mixed 2-2 preseason record, the Celtics have the opportunity to hit the reset button this week as they face North Salem High School Friday, Oct. 1.

McNary High School travels to meet the Vikings in the conference-opener and follow it with a Thursday game against West Salem High School, Oct. 8, at Flesher Field.

McNary crumbled on offense and defense against Barlow, but the damage done isn’t beyond repair, said Rick Ward, McNary head coach.

“It’s a matter of getting punched in the nose and deciding how you’re going to react to it,” he said. “The first thing we’re going to do is fix simple mistakes, and mistakes we didn’t make in the two weeks prior – like having guys in the wrong place or two guys running into the same zone.”

North Salem (0-4) has struggled in its preseason contests. The Vikings have been outscored 122-62 in losses to Wilson, Barlow, Lakeridge and Hood River Valley high schools. Still, it’s not a team Ward is looking past.

“Their offense is a hard offense to stop, there’s three guys going three different ways and we need to know who’s got the ball,” Ward said. “That’s a discipline game, that’s an assignment game and we have to solve that this week.”

Celt lineman Alex Willeford is hoping to lead the team better from the front.

“We’ve got to try to keep everyone’s heads up. We gotta look at the mistakes and fix them and not fixate on them,” Willeford said. “I’m confident we beat them. We just need effort and concentration on every play.”

After North Salem, the Celts step onto the field with the heavy favorite to win the Central Valley Conference, West Salem High School.

The Titans, with a 3-1 preseason record, lost their season opener to Sheldon 34-27, but have coasted to wins over South Eugene, West Linn and Southridge high schools.

The team is led by returning quarterback Brett Smith, who is widely regarded as top senior prospect in the state. He had committed to San Jose State, but has since withdrawn it and opened up talks with other schools.

Regardless of their opponent, both games will come down to the Celts focusing on their games before worrying about what others are bringing to the field, said  Cole Sessums, McNary defensive lineman.

“We need to practice for every team as though it was our last shot at a championship,” Sessums said.