By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
A play-in game Friday, Nov. 4, will decide which varsity football team, the McNary High School Celts or Grants Pass High School Cavemen, will advance to the 32-team playoff bracket.
McNary finished its season with two wins to claim fifth place out of six teams in the Central Valley Conference. The Cavemen finished sixth out of eight teams in the Southwest Conference, the team’s most recent victory was a 33-13 rout last week over South Eugene High School.
“That league is pretty stacked with competition, but we’ve had comparable seasons,” said Rick Ward, McNary head coach. “They’re a lot like McKay in that they like to run the ball, but we showed we were capable of shutting that down and we’ve got a bit more of a streak going.”
John Musser, Grants Pass head coach, said the Cavemen will be looking to thwart the Celtic passing game, “ We need to contain both their quarterbacks, and we’re impressed with [Garren] Robinett, but [Justin] Gardner and [Mike] Gerasimenko have made some big plays.”
The Cavemen’s defense has been the team’s strength for much of the season, but a lack of depth has left them struggling to outlast team’s with larger rosters, Musser said.
What it lacks in depth, Grants Pass makes up for in standouts. On defense, middle linebacker Steven Etheridge leads the team in tackles; outside linebacker Chad Lowe has three interceptions for the year including one for a touchdown last week; corner back Riley Veritch also has a trio of interceptions; and Musser called defensive end Dustin Randall an “explosive player off the edge” who is leading the team in sacks.
Offensively, Cavemen quarterback Hunter Rich is “small but crafty,” according to Musser. Logan Dean is the team’s best running back. He piled up nearly 100 yards in the outing with South Eugene. Tight end Kolton Mahr, and wide receivers Veritch and Lawrence Potts are also names to be listening for during the game.
On the Celtic side of the ball, quarterback Justin Burgess said the team will be figuring out how to adjust its passing game to the Cavemen’s deep coverage.
“We’ll need to sharpen that up, but the main thing is we can’t be looking past them,” Burgess said.
Teammate Perry Groves said the Celtic offensive game felt most complete in its recent win over McKay, but the danger now runs to the other extreme.
“We have to make sure we’re not getting too cocky,” he said.
For both teams, it will likely come down to which one puts together the most complete game effort.
“A breakdown or two has cost us all year in games,” Musser said. “We need to put together four quarters in all three phases of the game.”
Celt Robinett echoed the sentiment, “We’ve had games where things were going well on one side of the ball or the other. If we can put it together, I think we’ll be fine.”