By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes

McNary (2-5) is not the same football team it was a month ago.

That was made clear last Friday night in Bend when after falling behind 12-0 the Celtics roared back to win 37-26.

“A month ago, they might have cashed in their chips,” McNary head coach Jeff Auvinen said. “We’ve been working on trying to answer the bell and trying to respond when adversity happens and play that next play. I think they responded really well.”

Senior Griffin Oliveira started the comeback, catching a touchdown pass from Erik Barker.

“It almost felt like it was going to be another one of those (blowout losses),” Oliveira said. “Everyone put their head down, but we came back and got a score. There was some talking on the sidelines and we decided that wasn’t how we wanted our season to go. We stepped up and made some things happen.”

Thanks to a Nigel Harris interception and touchdown on the final play of the first half, the Celtics took a 21-19 lead into halftime but they didn’t feel good about it.

“We were not very happy with how we played in that first half, giving up three scores on defense, really being able to do whatever we want on offense but not having all 11 guys on the same page,” Auvinen said.

“When we had our halftime talk, that’s when we really stepped it up and took it to a whole other level that we hadn’t taken it to yet,” Oliveira said. “We were up two but there was a lot of room to make way more plays and we finally started making those.”

Junior Walling, who finished with 133 total yards and three touchdowns, rushed for two touchdowns in the third quarter to extend the Celtics lead to 34-19.

After Bend scored its only points of the second half on a kickoff return, Jacob Jackson made a 29-yard field goal.

“That second half they were pretty much doing whatever they wanted to whenever they wanted to,” Auvinen said of McNary’s offense. “We had a great mix of run and pass.”

Barker completed 18 of 28 passes for 257 yards and a touchdown. Oliveira caught five passes for 68 yards. Jackson hauled in three for 67 yards.

Walling also led McNary’s defense, finishing with 11 tackles and two sacks. Dyami Rios has six tackles and three sacks. Jackson and Robert Benson each added seven tackles. Devyn Schurr had six tackles and an interception.

Bend entered the game 5-1 and No. 10 in the OSAA power rankings.

The win was the Celtics second in a row after beginning the season 0-5.

“We switched our practice plan up a lot the last few weeks and focused on toughness and changed up the culture a little bit,” said Oliveira, who also recovered a fumble for a touchdown against Bend. “We’ve been hitting the sleds a lot, lots of running, physical drills, way more hitting.”

After allowing more than 500 yards on the ground to North Medford and Tumwater, McNary’s defense held Bend to 96 yards rushing on 28 carries.

“Coaches have really emphasized getting all 11 on the same game plan,” Auvinen said. “I think kids have started to develop a trust with each other as far as everyone is going to do their job so I don’t need to do someone else’s job. I think they’re developing that. Kids are learning their assignments better and we’re getting a little bit tougher, getting our pad level down, getting a little more physical, running our feet a little more. I think it’s a combination of all those factors.”

McNary will find out this Friday if it’s ready to take the next step as the Celtics travel to West Salem.

Both squads are 2-0 in the Mountain Valley Conference.

Slowing down the Titan offense, which features Simon Thompson, the 6A state track and field champion in the 110 hurdles, at quarterback, who passed for 475 yards and six touchdowns last Friday against Mountain View, and receiver Anthony Gould, an Oregon State commit who has 837 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns this season, will challenge McNary’s defense.

Tight end Micah Pugh, who caught eight passes for 214 yards and touchdown against Mountain View, is also a concern.

“They’ve got some very good athletes,” Auvinen said. “Skill kids are the strength of their team but they have some good solid line kids as well. They’re an interesting mix, kind of like we are. We’ll try to take away their playmakers the best we can and try to make them do things and beat us with people they haven’t relied on in the past. We’ll try to make them look elsewhere.”

McNary should get a boost to its line as senior Wyatt Sherwood is expected back after suffering a concussion and neck injury on Sept. 7 at West Linn.

“He’s pretty excited, which makes me excited,” Auvinen said.