Viking Jonny Garza leaps after Celt Tim McDowell on his way into the end zone for a touchdown. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

If Rick Ward were pressed to sum up McNary’s 32-24 loss to North Salem on the gridiron, he could do it in one word: timing.

“We had all the reads we wanted, got players open on the field and four touchdown passes that were an inch away from connecting,” Ward said.

The Celtics were plagued with timing issues throughout the night with a few leading to turnovers that reversed the tide on the Celts.

“Physically we have great effort, but our mental mistakes are just killing us,” said Jared Van Cleave, a McNary senior linebacker.

In the first quarter, the Vikings scored on a 60-yard pass and an interception that North Salem’s Avry Holmes ran back 61 yards for a touchdown – the result of a timing error.

Despite the on-field foibles, McNary’s players managed to make a game of it.

“We lost our momentum as they kept scoring, but we kept reminding each other to forget the last play and move on to the next,” said Jordan Gillett, a McNary senior defensive lineman.

Celts responded with the only points of the second quarter on a Tim McDowell two-yard run. The Vikings racked up numerous penalties throughout the quarter, but McNary couldn’t shift the momentum.

“We didn’t capitalize on their penalties,” said Garren Robinett, a McNary wide receiver. “We would have bright flashes of good play, but we didn’t sustain it.”

In the third quarter, the Vikings expanded their lead to 19-8 before Celt quarterback Kyle Ismay connected with McDowell on a nine-yard touchdown pass. He repeated the effort and hit lineman Wes Heredia on the conversion to close the gap to 19-16. It was the closest the Celts would get to a win.

North Salem plunged into the Celtic end zone on the ground twice in the early part of the fourth quarter to move ahead 32-16, but McNary responded with a speedy seven-play, 94-second, 87-yard drive ending in a touchdown pass from Ismay to Robinett.

“We were running uptempo, no huddle and the light bulb went on,” Ward said.

McNary’s defense held the Vikings to three-and-out on the return drive. The
Celts started on their 41-yard line with 2:26 left on the clock and Ismay completed three quick passes on the return to put the team within reach of knotting the game. With 1:30 left on the clock, Ismay let loose a pass that ended up in the hands of North Salem’s Alex Ramirez.

“It skipped through our receiver’s hands and into North Salem’s,” Ward said.

The most frustrating part for Ward was what the game might have been.

“Kyle passed for 265 yards and could have passed for 400 and five touchdowns with little adjustment,” Ward said.

The loss leaves McNary with a 2-3 record for the season and a 0-1 record in the Central Valley Conference. Still, with recent changes in the playoff structure the Celts will have ample opportunity earn a berth.

“We’ll still have a shot and we can continue to make strides to get where we want to be. That’s our situation,” Ward said. He’s planning on simplifying the Celt game plan to hammer home the importance of assignments and the executing.

“Sometime the kids think that every play should be a big play and they just need to be positive plays,” he said.

The Celtics faced the conference-favorite West Salem High School pass press time on Thursday and will be ramping up for South Salem next week.

While they could let their record get them down, Van Cleave said it was time for a stiff upper lip.

“We fought all the way to the end and I’m proud of our guys, but we came up short,” he said. “We have some good tools we’ve just got to bring them out and we can beat anyone in the league.”