McNary linebacker Kolby Barker celebrates after recovering a West Albany fumble on Friday, October 14.(KEIZERTIMES/Derek Wiley)

McNary linebacker Kolby Barker celebrates after recovering a West Albany fumble on Friday, October 14.(KEIZERTIMES/Derek Wiley)

By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

The playoffs don’t technically begin until Nov. 4.

But with two teams who will mostly likely be in the state tournament remaining on the regular season schedule and McNary clinching a spot as well, the Celtics are already in playoff mode.

“I think (wide receiver) coach (Frank) Gauntz put it really well (Monday),” MHS head coach Jeff Auvinen said. “They’re (North Medford) going to be a playoff team. West Salem is going to be a playoff team. We might as well start the playoffs right now with that kind of intensity, that kind of mentality, that kind of preparation and focus. These are going to be playoff type teams so we use this as the beginning of our playoff run.”

At 5-2, McNary is third in the Greater Valley Conference. McMinnville, West Albany and South Salem are all tied for fourth at 3-3.

The Celtics have head-to-head wins over the Grizzlies and Bulldogs, who play each other on Oct. 28. The Saxons host West Salem, who is 6-0 in conference, on Oct. 21.

North Medford, who McNary plays Friday, Oct. 21 in its final home game, is fifth in the Southwest Conference at 2-3 but ranked 22nd in the OSAA rankings.

After beginning the season 3-0 with two wins over California teams, the Black Tornadoes have dropped three of their last four. But two of those losses have come to Sheldon and South Medford, both top 10 teams.

“I think they (North Medford) play hard,” Auvinen said. “It’s kind of like some of the teams we’ve been playing. I don’t think they’re a great football team but I don’t think they’re bad either. I think they do some things well that are going to be good for us to get ready for the playoffs.”

On offense, the Black Tornadoes throw the ball more than any other team McNary has played.

“They throw and catch the ball fairly well, which a month ago I would’ve been a lot more concerned,” Auvinen said. “We’re playing a lot better defensively in the secondary right now. Obviously, it concerns me because big plays can happen but I feel better about where we are right now back there.”

McNary last played North Medford to open the 2013 season, which the Celtics won 20-13.

“It’s kind of a weird week,” Auvinen said. “Since I’ve been here, I don’t know if we’ve played a non-league game this late in the year. For years and years and years, it was the first game or two.”

Already in the playoffs, Auvinen wants the Celtics to continue to improve over the final two weeks of the regular season.

Of course, McNary, which is ranked 19th, can also improve its seeding.

“These kids are really playing well together, which is huge in football,” he said. “They’re excited about playing. I think we want to keep the momentum going and building. The sky’s the limit with these guys.”