Celt Garren Robinett struggles for an extra yard as a South Salem players wraps him up. (Keizertimes/ERIC A. HOWALD)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Formidable opponent aside, it was errors on the Celtic side of the football that kept the varsity team from closing the gap in the 34-21 loss to South Salem High School.

McNary allowed a touchdown with four seconds remaining in the half that permitted the Saxons a lead they would never surrender, but a blown snap in the red zone near the top of the fourth quarter and a final drive that netted McNary more than 30 yards on five consecutive penalties were nails in the coffin.

“On the last drive, we had three minutes left and plenty of time to run the ball down and go for an onside kick. That’s the mindset, and then we started taking the belly punches,” said Rick Ward, head coach.

McNary’s first big play of the game came at the hands of Garren Robinett who reeled in a pass from South Salem’s Jaylynn Bailey inside the Celtic 10-yard line. The Celts didn’t make anything of the return drive, but the Saxons scored on their next possession for a 7-0 lead. South Salem recovered a dropped snap on McNary’s next possession and Bailey rushed into the end zone from a yard out for a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter.

“It’s been a lot of the same thing all season,” said Mike Gerasimenko, a Celtic defensive back. “We weren’t wrapping up and we were getting beat by the wide receivers in the first half.”

McNary picked up a big conversion on fourth and 11 their next drive that appeared to buoy spirits. Celtic quarterback Kyle Ismay connected with James Lowells on a 25-pass for a touchdown. Gonzalo Cervantes added the extra point for a score of 13-7.

McNary forced a fumble on the Saxon return drive, but South Salem responded by picking off an Ismay pass intended for Robinett in the Saxon end zone. South scored on the return drive for a 21-7 lead and McNary plowed back down the field deep into Saxon territory. On the 20-yard line with third down with five yards to go and 42 seconds left in the half, Ismay connected with Robinett for a touchdown that closed the gap to 21-14.

The Saxons raced back down the field and added the final touchdown of the half for a 28-14 lead.

“We didn’t stop the run at all in the first half. We knew that going in that it was likely to be a problem and it proved to be true, but we did a lot better in the second half,” Ward said.

The team has trouble hitting on all cylinders at the same time, said Robinett.

“In the first half, we had a good offensive night  and weak defense, then in the second half it was the exact opposite,” he said.

Ismay connected with Robinett for a second and final time in a third quarter touchdown, but it was a fading glimpse of what the game could have become.

On the return drive, Gerasimenko came up with an interception, but the drive was marred by a blown snap that flew right past Ismay’s head as he called an audible.

“If we had scored off that drive it may have been a different story,” Gerasimenko said.

The McNary defense made big stops on the return drive, but the Saxons made an interception on McNary’s next possession that led to the final touchdown of the game and a 34-21 lead.

McNary’s penalty-plagued final drive meant the team went out with a whimper rather than a bang.

“We didn’t go hard every play,” said McNary’s Jake Short, a defensive back. “We had maybe 10 plays and then one play where we were doing it right.”