It’s often difficult to point to one play as a critical moment in a game decided by 25 points. But had one play gone differently for McNary in the first half of Saturday’s 44-19 loss to Tualatin, if the ball bounced the other way, it may have been a different story for the Celtics.
With under four minutes to play in the first half, Tualatin had the ball with a 19-3 lead facing a fourth-and-4. The McNary defense forced quarterback Jack Wagner to scramble, and James Catron and Hunter Ruberto took Wagner down at midfield short of the first-down mark. The ball came out, rolled forward a couple of yards and was recovered by Tualatin for a first down.
“That definitely changed the way the first half ended, which I think really set the tone for the second half,” McNary head coach Connor Astley said. “I felt like we were competing and playing hard. There were a couple mental errors on our part early on, but we came together and worked on it, but that was a big momentum shift for us.”
And a momentum shift it was.
The Timberwolves took the ball, drove the rest of the field and faced another fourth down, this time with goal-to-go from the 1-yard line. Running back Luke Ash capped off the drive with the touchdown.
McNary proceeded to go three-and-out, and a bad punt put Tualatin on the McNary 21-yard line with 19-seconds to play. It was more than enough time, as Wagner connected with AJ Noland down the sideline for the score on the first play.
And in the matter of three-minutes and 45-seconds, the Celtics went from possibly having the ball down two scores at midfield, to trailing 31-3 at halftime.
Tualatin’s Ricky Bobby offense wants to go fast, and that’s exactly what it did to start the game.
The Timberwolves pulled out some tricks, running a wide receiver pass on the first play of the game, a touchdown connection from Noland to Kenen Elder. The play set the tone early, as Tualatin would strike fast on big plays throughout the game.
But the second half offered some encouragement for Astley and the Celtics. They outscored the Timberwolves 16-13.
After scoring their first points of the season on a field goal to start the second quarter, the Celtics found the end zone for the first time this season, and did so twice in the fourth quarter.
First, Ben Allen punched one in from short for McNary.
Allen and Ruberto both had over 60 yards rushing for the Celtics, picking up big chunks of yardage and running much more freely than they did at Lakeridge to start the season. Some of this could be attributed to the return of starting center, junior Andres Hermosillo Vega, but Astley thinks things were just different all around for the run game.
“Our O-line had a different mindset this week,” Astley said. “Obviously getting Andres back was a big help but Calvin [Listner] did well when he was out there.”
McNary capped the game off with a big score in the final seconds of the game when quarterback Jackson Alt connected with receiver Ben DeVos for a 52-yard score.
While the touchdown might not have meant much for the score in this game, it could be a big momentum gain moving forward.
“It’s good to build some confidence there for Jackson,” Astley said. “I know he can do it, he just has to know he can do it too.”
But while there was some good to build off of, there are also some issues to address for Astley and his crew if they’re to earn victory number one anytime soon.
Defensively, the line and linebackers have looked solid, but the secondary has been abused now two weeks in a row, allowing five passing touchdowns in each. Size may be a factor, as the tallest defensive back for the Celtics is just six-foot-one-inch, and they’ve matched up with pass catchers from Lakeridge and Tualatin that measure six-foot-two, six-foot-four and six-foot-five.
“We’ll play around with the defense a little bit, try to do some things to help those guys, but we can only control what we can control, right?” Astley said. “We’ll do our best as coaches to get them in the right spots, but sometimes there’s just bigger guys out there.”