For the third time this season, McNary football found themselves close in the first half, with a momentum swing away from them before heading into the locker room.
In Friday’s 21-7 loss to North Salem, it wasn’t the refs or a bad play call that caused it. Maybe it was something the student section said.
Late in the second quarter, the Celtics (0-5, 0-3) trailed 14-7, but had successfully bottled up Vikings (4-1, 2-1) quarterback TC Manumaleuna. The highly recruited junior was just 1-4 with an interception, and the McNary student section decided to let him know, with a chant of “overrated.”
“That’s all good, that’s what they want to do. I don’t let that rattle our team,” Manumaleuna said.
Regardless of what he said after the game, perhaps Manumaleuna took it personally.
But Jordan references aside, on the next play he laid out a perfect ball down the left sideline for a 54-yard touchdown, putting the Vikings up 21-7.
“I read instant karma all over the field,” McNary head coach Connor Astley said.
It was Manumaleuna’s best throw of the day, beating perfect coverage from the Celtics. Most of his attempts were screens and short outs. His first throw didn’t come until the second drive, an interception by McNary defensive back Jabol Balos.
There appeared to be some miscommunication on the throw, as Manumaleuna’s receiver went towards the sideline and the pass sailed to toward the middle of the field. Balos looked like a centerfielder, and returned the ball to near midfield with a chance for McNary to take an early lead.
Unfortunately for the Celtics they were unable to take advantage. McNary quarterback Jackson Alt was intercepted by North Salem’s Erick Gonzalez at the North Salem 29-yard line.
“I have to be better,” Alt said. “I have to make better reads, throw better balls, lead guys more.”
Alt started the game better, leading the Celtics down the field on their opening drive and capping it off with a fourth down throw that dropped perfectly over receiver Evan Lawson’s shoulder for a touchdown in the back of the endzone to tie the game. But the interception came on a drive where McNary could conceivably take their first lead of the season.
It was one of two first half turnovers for the Celtics in Vikings territory. On the following drive, running back Jake Allen fumbled at the Vikings 32-yard line.
The Celtics shot themselves in the foot again at the start of the second half. After two big runs by Allen got them inside the redzone, a personal foul for helmet-to-helmet contact was called, pushing them back to the 27-yard line.
“We just got to get better at the little things,” Astley said. “It’s all these things that we coach every single day, and you hope that the kids are listening. It just never seems to pan out at the times you want it to.”
The McNary defense held strong in the second half, keeping North Salem scoreless, forcing a punt, turnover on downs and a fumble. Astley credited a lot of it to defensive adjustments at the half.
The run heavy offense doesn’t usually ask much from Manumaleuna. When healthy, senior running back Josiah Davis has been the workhorse and guiding force for the Vikings attack. On Friday against the Celtics, Davis went for 164 yards on 21 carries and two touchdowns.
Coming into the game, Astley knew the 6-foot-one-inch 225-pound Davis would be a problem, and the plan was for gang tackling. And while the Celtics were able to get bodies on Davis for the most part, when faced one-on-one the powerful back usually stayed up.
“He definitely had his moments where it was ‘yup, that was a big boy going downhill,’ but we had our moments too,” Astley said. “I would say it was relatively 50/50. We did what we were supposed to do, he did what he was supposed to do. It’s why we play the game, right?”
This may be the first year in 6A for North Salem, but they’ve looked up to the task, outscoring their opponents 128-10 in their four wins.
And while the Vikings have had strong showing this season, they aren’t quite at the level of some of the top-10 ranked teams that the Celtics have gone up against this season.
“When we are faced against an opponent, and I say this in the nicest possible way, that is not head and shoulders above us, like a Sheldon, I think we can compete with them,” Astley said. “I think that showed tonight. But obviously we have to be better.”