By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
After the opposing team left the field to celebrate its 41-0 win, after their coaches gave them one last post-game debrief, after many of their teammates headed back into the locker room, a half-dozen senior McNary High School varsity football players locked hands and strode down the gridiron one last time.
Many of them hung their heads, a few had to stop and collect themselves to keep going, and the scene made for a bittersweet grace note to a season where the boys saw the team rebound from some of the lowest times in the team’s history and begin rebuilding toward something better.
Because they were making that walk, the boys didn’t hear the woman approach a group of chatting McNary fans behind them. She didn’t introduce herself. She was there to support the Lake Oswego team, but she’d waited on that field just as long as the boys lingered in hope that what she had to say would somehow make it back to their ears: “You guys have a really good team, so much better than what the score showed.”
For the seniors on the team, that will have to be enough as the Celts lost to Lake Oswego High School in the first round of the state tournament. The story the score didn’t tell happened mostly in the first half as the Celts frequently surprised the Lakers with deft hands and trick plays.
“At the end of the day, they’re a great team–returning state champs–but we earned a lot of respect from them. After every play, they were coming up and saying good job and wishing us luck,” said Celt Matt Piskorowski. “We played well, but it still wasn’t our best football.”
McNary punted away its first drive as neither the run game nor air attack got them beyond their own 30-yard line. Lake Oswego answered with the first touchdown of the night at 6:22 in the first quarter.
The Celts had one of their most impressive possessions on the subsequent drive. It started with Cody Bond returning the kickoff to the McNary 20-yard line. A faked hand off by Hayden Gosling turned into a reception by Perry Groves for a small gain two plays later. The offensive line forced a Laker penalty on the next play and then an incomplete pass brought up the punt. McNary faked that, too, and Grant Taylor reeled in a pitch for the first down at the team’s own 33-yard line.
Brett Hildbrand moved the line of scrimmage eight yards downfield on a run up the gut and and McNary drew the Lakers offsides to reset the chains. Gosling connected with Groves from McNary’s 36-yard line and Groves raced the ball to the Lakers’ 37-yard line before getting pushed out of bounds. The team faltered after that and turned over the ball on downs. The Lakers struck again six plays later to take a 14-0 lead, but it was last time in the half they would find such success.
Bond pulled in the next kickoff and took it out near the Celtic 15-yard line. He sent to ball to Garrett Hittner on a lateral pass and Hittner ran it out to just past midfield to give the Celts prime field position. Unfortunately, McNary didn’t find a route to another first down.
The Lakers had their first setback on their possession when Mason Ross and Grant Gerstner took down Laker quarterback Justen Ruppe for a six-yard loss. Pass coverage by Bond and Andrew Lawrence kept the Lakers in check as they went to the air. Zac Fegles stopped the Lakers’ advance at McNary’s own 35-yard line. Then Groves and Brian Kostenko got ahold of a Laker rusher right before he crossed into the end zone and forced a fumble that went out of bounds, giving the ball back to McNary on a touchback and possession at its own 20-yard line.
The Celtics moved the chains on receptions by Hittner and Devon Dunagan, but fell victim to their own unforced errors before penetrating the Laker red zone.
The Lakers got the ball back on downs with 1:30 left in the half and three plays later the team was at the McNary 10-yard line. Ross came up with a sack to help the Celtic effort, then Gerstner and Kaleb Simpson got ahold of one of the Lakers as he reeled in a pass around the 5-yard line forcing a fumble. Celt Kelly Cowan dove into the mix and covered the ball up, allowing the team to take a knee and go into the half trailing 14-0.
“I don’t think they expected to be at 14-0 at halftime. It’s good to get respect from them,” Simpson said after the game.
The Lakers took a 26-0 lead by the end of the third quarter and added another 15 points in the fourth to seal the win. Penalties took a visible toll on the Celts as the game wore on.
“They have a very good defense, the best we’ve seen all year long, so there’s no going around that. They also were much more aggressive than we saw on film and I think that caught our players by surprise. Whenever they do something you don’t expect them to, it takes your players, especially young ones, some time to get comfortable again with what they’re doing,” said Isaac Parker, McNary head coach. “Our defense played well enough in the first half to give us a chance. Unfortunately, offensively, we tripped on our own feet a little bit early on and missed our opportunities to score and keep the game close, and move the chains to keep their offense off the field.”
Taylor said stopping the team at the goal line twice in the first half were the highlights for the team, and that there was some gratification in having lived up to their original goals for the season.
“We haven’t made the playoffs since 2008. We had a positive outlook, stuck with our vision and we got here,” he said.
While the season ended on a sour note on the field, Parker said the team had many victories off of it.
“We talk to our kids about how we can’t choose when we want to be good, that being good is a life-wide commitment. If these kids want to be good at football, they had to learn to be good at everything they did. They had to learn to do things right in all aspects of life, and give their best effort, focus, and attitude in all they do. I’ve talked to a bunch of kids who have said that school is easier now or life at home is better because they made a decision to learn those habits of success, and ultimately, that’s the impact I hope we have on the kids,” he said.