Celtics face pass heavy Saxons Friday

While they may not have to go far, the road for McNary football isn’t easy this week when they take the short trip to face No. 6 South Salem and senior quarterback Daschel Smith.

Smith leads the state with 1,774 passing yards this season, along with 15 touchdowns. 

It’s a big shift in prepwork for the Celtics and head coach Connor Astley, who last week prepared for the run-first North Salem offense.

“It’s a completely different beast,” Astley said. 

In the second week of the season, Smith threw for 525 yards and five touchdowns in a 42-7 win against Sunset. The next week, he threw for five scores again, this time a 48-7 wn against Grants Pass.

With his 191 attempts on the season, Smith has thrown seven interceptions, the most among the top quarterbacks in Oregon. 

Smith’s main weapons on the outside are senior Tini Tinitali III and junior Esteban Mendez. Both have 26 receptions on the season. Tinitali, who was the one that convinced Smith to come out and play football their freshman year, has racked up 396 yards and four touchdowns. 

Meanwhile Mendez has 361 yards and three scores. 

Neither receiver has the type of size that has give the Celtics issues at times this season. Tinitali is 6-foot, while Mendez is five-foot-five-inches. 

The Saxons have one large pass catcher in 6-foot-4-inch 200-pound Eli Johnson.

South Salem essentially runs a five-wide set, with their running back usually spread out wide. Wide receiver Zach Wusstig actually leads the Saxons in rushing this season with 181 yards on only seven carries. Last week against West Salem, Wusstig carried twice for 97 yards, including a 69 yard pickup, and two scores. 

While he’s not a running quarterback, Smith easily leads the Saxons in carries, with 39 of the team’s 69 this season, though he averages just 1.6 yards per rush. 

Astley thinks the Celtics’ offense can take advantage of the pressure that the Saxons like to bring using playaction and screen routes.

They’ve formed their identity as a running team so far this season on the legs of Jake Allen and Hunter Ruberto, but the pass game is slowly coming along for Astley.

“I think we’re starting to get confidence both in Evan Lawson and Ben DeVos and Ryan Lyda out at that slot receiver position,” Astley said. “But we’re still a run-first team at this point and that’s what we’re going to continue to lean on.”