By ERIC A . HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
The McNary High School varsity football team never trailed in its season-opening 35-21 win over North Salem High School Friday, Sept 5.
The Celtics pounded away on the ground game using attacks led by a variety of runners, but junior Brady Sparks led the team with 170 yards on 20 carries. Senior Drew McHugh completed 11-18 in his debut as Celt quarterback after struggling in the first half.
“We already expected we were going to win, but then we played down to their level instead of keeping the game at our level. We can really work on more team effort and communication up front and encouraging each other across the team,” said Steven Wilkerson, a Celtic senior.
North won the coin toss, but never left their side of the field as the Celt defense shut them down at their own 25-yard line. McNary answered with a big return on the punt by junior Matt Aguilar and moved the chains to the North Salem 27-yard line when McHugh connected with Devon Dunagan on an outside route. Senior Kyle Torres ran the ball to the end zone on the next play to put the Keizer team up 7-0.
North’s next drive stalled just past midfield, but the punt buried McNary at their own three-yard line. Two small-gain run attempts and a deflected pass kept them there. North started its drive from McNary’s 21-yard line and evened the score 7-7 two plays later.
“We had a couple of plays where we were backed up to the end zone and we just gave in a bit. We need to keep playing hard even when things are going the other team’s way, even if we’re at the 10-yard line,” said Dunagan.
The Vikings pooched the kickoff, but McNary recovered at its own 44-yard line and McHugh connected with Sparks on a short route. Sparks ran the ball to the end zone from the Viking 37-yard line for a 14-7 lead.
North’s return spanned the change in quarters, and the Salem team penetrated deep into McNary territory. The Celts held the line inside the red zone on tackles by Kolby Barker and Jason Sperle. The Celts punted away the opportunity and stymied North at their own 14-yard line at the end of the half.
Torres made a 72-yard run for a touchdown on the first play of the second half, but was called back on a holding flag. In the reset drive, McHugh connected with Torres, David Gonzalez and, finally, Aguilar who ran the ball in for the Celts’ third touchdown of the game at 9:25 in the third quarter. The teams traded punts on the next drives, but junior Trent Van Cleave read the Vikings’ opening pass play and picked off the attempt, running the ball back for the a touchdown from around the North 20-yard line. The pick-six gave McNary a 28-7 lead.
“Devon (Dunagan) had covered the guy earlier in the night when he ran that quick hitch route and said he was a little too far back, so I stayed close and just got in front of the throw,” said Van Cleave.
Dunagan made two key tackles for McNary on North’s next drive, but the Vikings cinched up the score 28-14.
McNary lost its attempt to answer on a fumble recovered by North and Hayden Sader nearly picked off a pass that would have stopped North on the next play, but it proved to be a three-and-out at any rate.
The Celts started their last scoring drive on their 45-yard line, thanks to a return by Gonzalez, with 1:01 left in the quarter.
McHugh connected with Torres to put McNary at the North 31-yard line. The Vikings held off three attempts by Sparks on the ground, but McHugh found Aguilar to reset the downs at North’s 17-yard line. On the next play, Gonzalez grabbed a lateral pass from McHugh and ran it for the Celtics’ final touchdown of the night.
A deflection by Celt Tim Hays and a gang-tackle by Jacob Burrus, Nick LaFountaine, and Torres both threatened to deflate the Viking sails, but a pass interference call that resulted in a big gain and a delay-of-game penalty game the Salem team just enough breathing room to score one last time for the final 35-21.
“Offensively, we were able to score and that was good, but we could have done better on defense,” Dunagan said. “North runs a power-T formation that we’re going to see again in our league and we’ll have to be able to stop the run.”