McNary running back Dakota Dunagan attempts to break through the tackle of a North Medford defender (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).
In their first home playoff contest in four years, the McNary football squad showed their superiority on both sides of the ball
The McNary offense broke the 30-point threshold for the fifth time this season, while the defense held North Medford to under 200 yards of total offense, giving the Celtics the 37-7 win over the Black Tornado in the first round of the OSAA playoffs on Friday, Nov. 5.
The Celtics improved to 7-3 with the victory.
“It was exciting for all the coaches and the kids,” McNary head coach Jeff Auvinen said. “The guys flew around and made plays. Kids that hadn’t played that much this year just stepped up and went.”
The Celtics 4-3 defense set the tone right away, holding North Medford to just two total yards in the first quarter, and putting relentless pressure on Black Tornado quarterback Mason Warren.
“I thought we were going to have to load the box more than we did. We started in our base defense and shut them down in that first series, which is when we realized that we could stay in our regular stuff,” Auvinen said.
“Our guys were getting pressure all night,” McNary linebacker Jake Paton added.
After going three-and-out on their opening drive, the McNary offense found a rhythm on their following possession.
The Celtics converted a key fourth-down on a run by Dakota Dunagan to get the ball inside the North Medford 30-yard line. McNary quarterback Tyler Copeland then followed by hitting Zane Aicher with a 12-yard screen pass to put the Celtics in the red zone, and moments later, Aicher capped off the drive with a two-yard touchdown run to give McNary a 7-0 lead.
North Medford moved the sticks for the first time early in the second quarter, but coughed the ball up on the next play to give the Celtics great field position.
Copeland hit Logan Ready for a first down on a fourth-and-three hitch pass, then found Jesse Dyer on a third down slant to put McNary in the red zone.
The Celtics were without their top receiver in Braiden Copeland — who suffered an injury in the previous game — while their second best receiver, Gunner Smedema, was playing on an injured leg, which meant guys like Ready and Dyer needed to step in their place. Ready had a career-high seven catches for 51 yards and a touchdown, and Dyer caught four balls for 36 yards.
Even though McNary couldn’t push the ball downfield like they had in previous games this season, the Celtics still found great success in taking what the defense was giving them, continuously hitting underneath routes to move the sticks.
“We didn’t have our two fastest players healthy enough to take big shots, but we had other guys step up,” Tyler Copeland said.
“We converted some big third and fourth down plays today. We had a nice mix of running and throwing. We have had some explosive plays, but some of our explosive guys are a little slower at the moment,” Auvinen added. “I thought the game plan was really solid and I thought the kids executed really well.”
After getting the ball inside the 20-yard line, McNary offensive coordinator Connor Astley called Smedema’s number, giving him the ball on a fly sweep. Smedema, who was playing in his first game since an injury on Oct. 15, ran to daylight without difficulty, weaving through multiple defenders on his way to a 17-yard touchdown run.
“It feels great to be back. I hated being out. Today was the first day of actually running on it. It felt pretty great,” Smedema said. “I was going to play because I knew it could be my last game.”
The fly sweep isn’t a normal staple of the McNary offense, but according to Auvinen, multiple coaches saw the play as a way to exploit the Black Tornado defense.
“I think the coaches just saw how (North Medford) was reacting to it and saw that we had some openings,” he said.
Receiving the ball to open the third quarter, the Celtics pulled some trickery out of their hat as Dyer received the kick and lateralled the ball to Aicher, who sprinted up the sideline all the way to the North Medford 31-yard line.
After a 14-yard pass from Tyler Copeland to Smedema, sophomore running back Jake Allen scored from three yards out to increase McNary’s advantage to 20-0.
Despite having an incredibly successful season as the Mountain Valley Conference Player of the Year, Copeland has played half the season with a high ankle sprain and has had a difficult time with his mobility for the last month. But in the third quarter, the senior signal-caller was able to give the crowd a glimpse into his old self, showing his athleticism to escape from the pocket on third-and-14, elude multiple defenders and connect with Dyer for a first down across the middle.
“I’m still not at 100 percent but I felt like I was able to move a little bit more,” Copeland said.
The Celtics extended their lead to 23-0 later in the quarter after a 35-yard field goal from Ready.
Midway through the third quarter, after having trouble moving the ball for the whole game, North Medford took advantage of a Celtics miscue to make it a two-score game.
On third-and-20 from their own 17-yard line, Warren escaped pressure on a broken play and threw the ball downfield into double coverage. Dyer, who was playing safety, looked to have a chance to come away with the interception, but he mistimed his jump, tipping the ball into the hands of Black Tornado receiver Bryce Dyer, who scampered down the sideline for an 83-yard score, cutting the deficit to 23-7.
However, it didn’t take McNary long to respond. The Celtics went 70 yards on their following possession and concluded the drive with Allen’s second touchdown run of the day, as the sophomore running back slipped past a multitude of tacklers to score from five yards out on the last play of the third quarter.
“I don’t even know what happened. I just felt the guys slip off and I just saw green turf,” Allen said.
Before last week, Allen hadn’t received any reps in the McNary backfield. But in just his second game at running back, Allen found the end zone both times he touched the ball for his first two touchdowns at the varsity level.
“It was great to see him step up and really contribute,” Auvinen said.
North Medford drove into McNary territory on the ensuing drive, but a fourth down sack from Paton caused the Black Tornado to turn the ball over on downs.
The Celtics put an exclamation point on the game late in the final period when Copeland found Ready wide open on a post route for a 16-yard touchdown to make the score 37-7.
With the win, McNary advances to the round of 16 to face top-ranked Lake Oswego, who is 9-1 on the year.
The Lakers were leading 49-18 in their first round contest against Newberg before the Tigers scored 22 unanswered points to only lose by nine — McNary defeated Newberg 17-14 in week two of the regular season. Auvinen believes that if his team plays similarly to the way they played against North Medford, they may have a shot at a huge upset.
“They are a good team, but they are definitely not unbeatable. If we can play like we did tonight, and really control the line of scrimmage and make plays on the outside, we have a good shot,” he said.
Matt Rawlings: [email protected]