By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes
MCMINNVILLE—With 1:25 remaining, McNary trailed by four points.
Two of the Celtics top offensive weapons had just dropped back-to-back passes, unable to catch a slick and heavy waterlogged ball.
Facing a fourth-and-25 just inside its opponent’s 30-yard line, McNary called its last time out.
The McMinnville home crowd was at its loudest of the night.
The Celtics needed a hero.
Quarterback Josiah Gilbert rolled out of the pocket and saw Jonathan Williams, a McNary junior who prior to the game had just two receptions for 16 yards, in the end zone. Williams out-jumped a McMinnville player to catch the ball off the top of the defender’s head.
“I still can’t believe it’s real,” Williams said on Friday, Oct. 7 immediately after the 30-27 McNary victory. “I was surprised that the ball even came my way. It just ended up in my hands and I’m just glad I caught it. I had a drop a few weeks ago that would have been an easy touchdown for me. This week was a good comeback from that. It’s amazing. I’ve dreamed of this moment but I never thought it would be real. Now it’s happening and it’s crazy.”
Gilbert thought Williams was more open than he actually was.
“I just saw my boy (Williams) in the end zone,” Gilbert said. “I didn’t see the guy underneath him to be honest but I put it up for him to go get it and he went up and made a great play. When he jumped up, I was so scared because I thought he jumped up too early. But he just hung there and as soon as it hit his hands, I started freaking out. I was so excited. I can’t even describe the emotions that I felt.”
Brendan Van Voorhis, the Celtics top receiver who was also running a route on the play, had a front row seat for Williams’ catch.
“That was spectacular,” Van Voorhis said. “That was one of the best catches I’ve ever seen. He was over the defender and caught it behind him. The ball was pretty hard to catch and it got kind of waterlogged so it was heavy. I took off my gloves because they got super slick when they get wet. My hands weren’t much better.”
McNary head coach Jeff Auvinen knew it was only a matter of time before Williams, who also had a 41-yard catch on the winning drive, stepped up and made a big play.
“Johnny is a playmaker,” Auvinen said. “He does it in practice. We’ve been waiting for him to step up at game time. He picked a good time to do it.”
With 1:09 remaining, McMinnville had a chance to tie the game or even take the lead. But after getting into Celtic territory, quarterback Wyatt Smith, being pressured by linebacker Kolby Barker and safety Junior Walling, threw an interception to Van Voorhis at the McNary 17-yard line.
“We got good penetration on that play,” Van Voorhis said. “Honestly, I give credit on that interception to the D-line. They forced the ball to come out quicker. He’s a good quarterback. If he wasn’t forced to get the ball out quicker, it would probably be on the money and it would have been a harder play. At first I was going to try to break up the pass and then I got a pretty good jump on it and I just layed out for it and got the ball in my hands.”
“Kolby was in that guy’s (Smith) back pocket all night long,” Auvinen said. “We couldn’t tackle him but I think he was feeling us. I think he was feeling the pressure and that contributed to him rushing that throw a little bit. Brendan did a good job closing.”
The interception wasn’t Van Voorhis first game-changing play of the night.
After the Grizzlies expanded their lead to 20-7 with 5:14 remaining in the second quarter, McNary answered with a 10-play, 89-yard drive, capped off by an 19-yard touchdown run by Lucas Garvey.
Van Voorhis intercepted Smith with 53 seconds to go in the first half and then caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Gilbert with 12 seconds remaining to tie the game.
After missing the extra point, the Celtics took their first lead, 23-20, on a 34-yard field goal by A.J. Johnk with 9:49 remaining in the third quarter.
However, McMinnville didn’t stay down long as Smith connected with Brad Hessel for an 11-yard touchdown four minutes later.
The Grizzlies missed a 38-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter and on fourth-and-8 at the McNary 42-yard line with 3:13 left to play, decided to punt.
After a touchback, the Celtics got inside McMinnville’s 15-yard line on a defensive pass interference penalty followed by the 41-yard catch by Williams. However, a face mask penalty and then drops by Van Voorhis and Garvey forced the fourth-and-25.
McMinnville running back Cedric Agcaoli-Ostrom rushed for 201 yards and two touchdowns but did most of his damage in the first half.
“He’s a stud,” Auvinen said of Agcaoli-Ostrom. “We made some adjustments. The kids got their shoulder pad down a little bit, started getting through a few blocks, a combination of factors. We did make a few adjustments that seemed to work. We played harder. Our offense kept a little better control of the ball. We didn’t put up a bunch of points but we did control the ball. It was a gutsy team effort. We had some kids at the D-line level step up. We had some linebackers step up. I’m so proud of them. It’s a team that just doesn’t give up. They keep fighting and battling. We’ve just got to keep doing that.”
Xavier Martinez also caught a 14-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter of the McNary victory.
For the first time all season, the Celtics had zero turnovers.
“That’s been a point of emphasis,” Auvinen said. “We did special drills to take care of the ball this week. We’ll continue that.”