By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes
SALEM—Using his arm, Erik Barker made sure McNary got off to a fast start at South Salem.
But the Celtics quarterback finished off the Saxons with his legs.
Facing a fourth-and-goal from the South Salem 1-yard line with less than a minute left to play, Barker faked a handoff and broke multiple tackles on the edge to fight his way into the end zone.
“Giving me that run play I was just so excited,” Barker said. “I just saw the edge and put my shoulder down. I was just so determined to get in the end zone. I just lowered my shoulder and kept running.”
Tim Kiser then recovered a fumble after a sack by Junior Walling and Freddy Jimna to complete the 37-26 McNary victory on Friday, Sept. 8.
At halftime, the Celtics appeared as if they might blow out South Salem.
McNary scored on its opening possession as Barker and Jacob Jackson connected for an 11-yard touchdown to complete a 12-play, 65-yard drive.
The Saxons took their only lead, 12-7, on a 23-yard pass on fourth-and-12 with 1:53 remaining in the first quarter. But the Celtics came right back down the field and Barker hit Jackson for another 11-yard touchdown to put McNary back on top 13-12 with 11:26 remaining in the second quarter.
The Celtics then took advantage of two turnovers.
After an interception by Alex McGrath gave McNary the ball inside South Salem’s 35-yard line, Barker completed two passes to Kyle McCallister, the second a 13-yard touchdown.
Ian Koenig then recovered a fumble inside the Saxon 20-yard line and Barker connected with Jonathan Williams for a 10-yard touchdown to stretch the Celtic lead to 27-12 with 5:23 remaining in the first half.
“Our game plan was solid,” Barker said. “They (Saxons defense) loaded the box to stop the run and that left it wide open for easy throws.”
Jackson added a 24-yard field goal and McNary went into intermission ahead 30-12.
South Salem’s first possession of the second half ended with another turnover as Kiser batted a pass into the air and McGrath collected his second interception.
McNary continued to move the ball but failed to add any points as Jackson missed a 26-yard field goal.
After the Saxons got within 30-18 on a 16-yard touchdown pass, Barker threw an interception inside South Salem’s 20-yard line. Another Barker interception, this time returned for a 17-yard touchdown, and a successful two-point conversion got the Saxons within 30-26 of McNary with 6:21 left to play.
“We were still up,” Barker said of what was going through his mind after the second interception. “I just needed to keep playing my game, didn’t need to force anything.”
With the Celtic running game stymied, Barker completed three passes to get McNary to the South Salem 31-yard line. But after two negative runs and an incomplete pass, the Celtics had to punt, giving the ball back to the Saxons with 2:19 remaining.
South Salem’s two minute drill didn’t last long as Jackson intercepted quarterback Elijah Enomoto-Haole on just the second play and McNary took over at the Saxon 8-yard line.
“Our defensive line put really good pressure on the quarterback,” Jackson said. “Alex McGrath made a great play on the ball, tipped it right to me.”
The Celtics ran the ball three times to set up the fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
“We went back and forth,” McNary offensive coordinator Brad Emmert said of the play call. “Erik from the view point of opposing teams is not a threat to run. He did a great job of breaking a couple of tackles and getting in. He has to learn that he’s a big kid. Hopefully that helped him out a little bit.”
Barker passed for 239 yards and four touchdowns. Jackson caught nine passes for 94 yards.
McNary had just 86 yards on the ground. Lucas Garvey led the effort with 74 yards on 24 carries.
“We knew that we had to run the football in order to get them (Saxons) to commit to the run and open up the passing game,” Emmert said. “Even though it seemed like the run was getting stopped, a lot of that was bringing linebackers up so then we could play-action them and throw it, which is absolutely what happened.”
The victory was McNary’s first against South Salem since 2013.
“I’m excited about where we’re heading,” Emmert said. “I like how this is bringing the kids together.”