BY ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
The annals of history will show the McNary High School varsity football team lost its final game of the 2012 Central Valley Conference season 24-20 with West Salem High School taking the win.
But anyone who watched the game likely knows the Celts were the biggest winners on the field.
Two clutch plays, both going against the Celtics, finalized the Titan victory, but McNary showed the most composure and patience in any game so far this season.
“We have been talking about effort, focus, and attitude all year long, and our boys have been doing an incredible job of finding something to focus on, put forth the effort to work hard on it, and have a great attitude about improving,” said Isaac Parker., McNary head coach “We are starting to play some consistently good football and for me, that’s exciting. I believe that eventually, consistent good football will be commonplace in our program, but to see how much our kids have grown from week one to week nine is encouraging.”
“Everything clicked and we played our best game of the season,” added Celt Zac Fegles, a senior.
McNary’s 10-play first drive fizzled despite first downs on a completion from quarterback Hayden Gosling to Garrett Hittner and two on rushes by Brett Hildebrand. Still, it planted a seed of confidence, Hildebrand said.
“It was really key. We actually drove for the first time on the first drive and we built on that confidence throughout the game,” he said.
The Titans were kept at bay with important stops by Mason Ross and Andrew Lawrence on their opening drive.
Penalties and miscommunications got the best of the Celts on the subsequent drive and the Titans took control near mid-field. Celts Paul Rios and Lawrence slowed the Titans’ progress, but it was pass coverage by Daniel Brattain and Fegles that forced West Salem to settle for a field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Spencer Baker picked up the ball on the Titan kickoff, but struggled to control it as he turned for the McNary’s sideline. The ball popped free near the three-yard line and the Titans recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead at 8:45 in the second quarter.
McNary’s second chance at a return drive was a seven-minute, 14-play march to West’s two-yard line. McNary drew a penalty on the third play of the drive that left them at third down and seven yards to go. Gosling handed off the ball to Hildebrand who got caught short of the down, but a huge push from the offensive line forced him over.
Gosling completed a long pass to Cody Bond and the play took the Celts to the Titan 26-yard line. McNary got another break on fourth down when the Titans were called for pass interference on a ball meant for Hittner. The drive reset at West’s 10-yard line and Hildebrand moved it to the two-yard line, but McNary couldn’t close it out.
Celt Grant Taylor got two tackles and reeled in an interception in McNary’s end zone, while taking a helmet to the stomach, to change the momentum of the game as the horn signaled the end of the half.
The teams hit the field after halftime with McNary taking the kickoff and Gosling connected with Bond on a swing route that he traveled all the way to the Titan end zone, skipping over two attempted tackles. The touchdown closed the gap to 10-7 with the Titans hanging on to the lead.
West’s next drive ended on a blown snap that was recovered by Celt Kelly Cowan. On third-and-long, Gosling tucked the ball under his arm and raced up midfield for a first down, putting the Celtics at the Titan 15-yard line. Hildebrand ran for a touchdown two plays later and McNary led 13-10. The point-after attempt was blocked.
The Titans rebounded quick and scored on their next drive to retake the lead 17-13.
It took four plays after the kickoff return for Gosling to connect with Hittner from midfield and the go-ahead touchdown. With a successful point-after by Gosling, McNary led 20-17.
“We played harder than we ever had before and we were consistent. We were consistent in the second half and scored on the first three drives over and over. Now we can grow in that,” Hildebrand said
Both teams punted away their next attempt and the Titans took over the control with 7:37 left on the game clock.
Titan back-up quarterback Riley Newman struggled to connect with his receivers, and tackles by Perry Groves, Devon Dunagan, including a momentum killer by Lawrence, left West at fourth-and-six-to-go. The Titans decided to go for it and Newman connected with Ambrose Soh on a screen pass and Soh took it to the end zone for the 24-20 lead.
McNary’s last shot started at 4:47 in the fourth quarter. A Gosling pass to Bond earned the team a first down. Hildebrand found an open route on the run and looked to be going for the end one when he stumbled near the sideline. McNary got as far as the Titan 33-yard line and Gosling aired out a pass intended for Bond. Titan Riley Rediger was covering and got the better jump to reel in the interception, ending McNary’s chances at the win.
“Brett obviously ran hard, Perry and Mason played great on defense, and our defensive backs made some plays on balls this week that we have lacked in the past. I was also extremely happy to see Cody finally have a breakout game,” Parker said.
With the loss, McNary finishes fourth in the CVC and a record of 2-3. They’ll host Grants Pass High School in a play-in game Friday, Nov. 2.
While Parker was pleased with the effort, he’s ready to see the team turn another corner.
“We have learned how to compete well, and what I’d like to see now is learn how to win. I’m honestly getting tired of the moral victories and I believe we are ready to start winning games. We now have to fine tune our competitiveness, and we are going to talk about some of those key moments in the game that changed the outcome,” he said.