By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

North Salem, a 2-7 football team a year ago, scheduled to move down a classification next season, is likely to be overlooked by many teams this fall.

Not McNary.

The Celtics, who open the 2017 campaign at home against North Salem on Friday, Sept. 1, had to overcome an 11-point fourth quarter deficit to defeat the Vikings last season, scoring the winning touchdown with just 1:23 remaining in the game.

“We went into the game a little over our heads and we need to stay composed and take it one step at a time,” McNary senior Lucas Garvey said. “That’s what we learned last year. You can’t ever judge a team by what their record was last year. You have to go into it with an open mind and just play our game.”

Garvey did his part a year ago, rushing for 131 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. At cornerback, he also had an interception.

“Going into your first varsity game and being able to run like that, gives me a lot of confidence,” Garvey said. “I’m going to try to mimic or do even better than I did last year.”

McNary has won its last three season openers against North Salem but the victories haven’t come easy. The Celtics trailed 14-8 at halftime of the 2015 game before winning 34-21.

“Playing them first game is really tough,” Celtics head coach Jeff Auvinen said. “They play with good leverage. They play hard. They battle us every year back and forth. I don’t think coach (Jeff) Flood likes playing us first game and I know we don’t like playing them first game.”

What makes the Vikings difficult to defend is their Wing-T offense.

“Especially offensively, they do their stuff really well,” Auvinen said. “They have been doing their Wing-T set forever. They are going to continue to do it forever so they don’t have a whole bunch to learn every year so they can concentrate on that.”

McNary’s defense struggled to contain North Salem’s running game last season, especially in the first three quarters.

“We need to be very disciplined,” Auvinen said of his defense. “We need to play with good leverage at the line of scrimmage, lower than the opponent, can’t be moved, so there’s nowhere to run. We need to each handle our gaps. That’s the plan. Hopefully we’ll execute a little better than we did last year. I didn’t call a very good game. When we did blitz, we over penetrated and got up the field. When we took a step back and just played football and stopped blitzing so much, we were able to make our reads and go.”

While North Salem graduated its quarterback and many skill players, the Vikings are experienced on the offensive line.

“It’s a little worrisome because that’s where most games are won and lost,” Auvinen said of the line. “With that offense, if you can open holes, people can run through them. It will be interesting to see what their new running backs are like.”

To prepare for the season opener, the Celtics participated in a jamboree at Marist on Friday, Aug. 25. McNary ran 12 plays on offense and defense against Canby, the host Spartans and then Corvallis.

After a slow start, Auvinen thought McNary improved with each scrimmage.

“We got better as the day progressed,” he said. “First game, especially on defense we weren’t very good. I think we were used to playing ourselves so we needed to find another gear and get a little more of a killer instinct. Against Canby, we were feeling our way and getting used to varsity game speed. Marist, we were better and then even better against Corvallis.”

This Friday’s home game against North Salem kicks off at 7 p.m.

McNary senior Jakoby Doke guaranteed the Celtics will be ready.

“It’s just a matter of walking in there and thinking any team can win any game,” Doke said. “No game is given to you. We just have to play as hard as we can just like any other game.”