No one thought it would be an easy night when the top-ranked team in the state came to town, especially not down six starters on defense.
But Friday night, head coach Connor Astley and the McNary Celtics found themselves in the locker room at halftime down 62-0 to No. 1 Sheldon.
The Irish (4-0, 2-0) scored on their first three offensive snaps. Meanwhile the Celtics (0-4, 0-2) struggled to move the ball, and uncharacteristically turned it over four times in the first half.
Astley challenged his team in the locker room to play for pride and find a reason to keep competing.
“A lot of guys did,” Astley said. “They came out here and played for someone, or played for themselves. And they had the pride in the program or in their family and they wanted to prove it, and I think they did.”
The Celtics held the Irish scoreless in the second half, and finally got on the scoreboard themselves.
They picked up a crucial fourth down when Jackson Alt connected with receiver Ryan Lyda.
“Ryan Lyda stepped up big for us,” Astley said. “When it seemed like no receiver could catch the ball, Jackson wasn’t really hitting his routes on time, but Lyda found a way.”
Then, on first-and-goal, Alt and Lyda hooked up again for a five-yard score as Lyda kept his feet in bounds along the sideline in the endzone after Alt rolled to the right.
There’s no question why Sheldon is the top team in the state. Quarterback Brock Thomas’ elite speed was on display on the first play of the game when he took the read option 60 yards down the Irish sideline for a score.
“We put our guys in the right position for it and it didn’t matter,” Astley said. “You can’t replicate that in practice.”
Thomas accounted for five touchdowns in less than two full quarters of play, throwing for four after his game opening dash.
The Celtics came in hurting, down six starters all around the field.
“Everywhere it seemed like we had a guy missing that we could have used,” Astley said. “I don’t know if they would have made a ton of difference, but they definitely would have been there for us. Those guys are leaders for our program and we follow their lead.”
And things got worse when starting center Andres Hermosillo Vega went down with a knee injury in the first. Astley said that testing revealed it to be a sprained MCL — a better diagnosis than originally feared on Friday — and Vega should be out four to six weeks.
But Astley and the Celtics can take the small victories from this matchup going forward.
“That’s the No. 1 team in the state, I don’t care if it’s their starters or backups,” Astley said. “You do something like that against them, that’s going to boost up [Lyda’s] morale, which will help us out in the long run as well.”