I did believe McNary’s non-league schedule would better prepare the Celtics for conference opponents.

I said so on the radio and wrote it here.

But did I see this coming—an 0-5 start followed by three straight wins, each one more impressive than the last, with the Celtics one win away from the Mountain Valley Conference championship?

Of course not.

Did anyone?

But that is where McNary sits now, after winning 35-23 at West Salem last Friday, in a game that honestly wasn’t that close.

Along with their five touchdowns, the Celtic offense moved the ball inside the West Salem 15 yard line three more times and got zero points to show for it, thanks to a missed field goal and two fumbles, one at the two yard line.

Honestly, part of the reason I wrote that the non-league schedule would turn out to be good for McNary is because I wanted it to be true. I didn’t want to cover an 0-9 team.

The Celtics did a good job of throwing me off the scent and testing my belief. Let’s not forget, while those first five opponents were tough, none of the games were competitive, minus the fourth quarter at West Linn, which turned into another blowout.

McNary then defeated Sprague in a game that looked like the Celtics had just got the best of another struggling, winless team than they had really turned a corner or made some giant leap forward.

But then McNary went to Bend and knocked off a 5-1 team sitting at No. 10 in the power rankings, and followed that up with the win at West Salem.

The 0-5 start, as tough as it was at the time, had obviously paid off.

“You really can learn more from a loss sometimes,” McNary head coach Jeff Auvinen said after defeating West Salem. “If we play a team that’s not very good and we don’t play very well, and just win because we were better than them, I don’t think you learn very much.”

The Celtics saw what it takes to compete against the best teams in the state.

“They are learning what it takes to be a 6A football player and play with that low center of gravity and running their feet and finishing plays,” Auvinen said. “And what it’s like to come together and trust your teammates. All 11 doing their job, it can be a beautiful thing.”

Now, McNary is one win away from winning the Mountain Valley Conference.

Will the Celtics get it?

My picks:

McKay at Crescent Valley

The Royal Scots will hope to close out the regular season on a high note against a Raider team that had won three in a row before falling to Lebanon by 37 points last Friday. McKay has been outscored by 70 points the last two weeks since getting its only win of the season at Corvallis.

Pick: Raiders 20, Royal Scots 14

North Salem at Lebanon

Like McKay, the Vikings haven’t really benefited from moving down to 5A. North Salem is coming off a 43-point win against South Albany but the Warriors are a playoff team, riding a three-game winning streak.

Pick: Warriors 38, Vikings 24

West Salem at Sprague

The Olympians are another squad that has benefited from playing a strong non-conference schedule. Sprague followed up a 35-point win over Summit with a 28-point victory over Mountain View. An upset over West Salem could get the Olympians into the playoffs. But the Titans have won the previous two matchups and should rise again, even though I predict this game to be much closer than I would have thought two weeks ago.

Pick: Titans 38, Olympians 35

South Salem at McNary

These two squads are obviously heading in opposite directions. While the Celtics have won three games in a row, the Saxons, with Ryan Rickman out for the season, have dropped four in a row, the latest to a 1-6 Summit team at home. McNary defeated South Salem last season for the first time since 2013 so the Celtics shouldn’t overlook the Saxons. As long as McNary shows up ready with the same fire it has the past two weeks, the Celtics will celebrate the Mountain Valley Conference championship.

Pick: Celtics 45, Saxons 21

Derek Wiley is the associate editor of the Keizertimes.

Last week: 2-3, Overall: 26-16