Celts start fast, quickly cool against Saxons

The Celtics hit on three big plays against the Saxons, but the offensive attack proved unsustainable Friday night.

McNary (0-6, 0-4) scored three times in the 55-19 loss at South Salem (5-1, 3-1), with all three scores either coming on or set up by big plays. 

In the third quarter, Ryan Lyda scored on a 48-yard reception from Jackson Alt. Hunter Ruberto took a carry 60-yards in the fourth quarter, complete with a hesitation high-step, for the score.

Back in the first quarter, on the opening drive of the game, Alt connected with Ben Allen in triple coverage down the sideline for a 31-yard completion. Allen went up among three Saxon defenders, the ball went over one defender’s hand and into Allen’s. The completion set up Allen’s brother Jake to take a swing route from Alt 10 yards to cap off the drive. 

What was it about those three plays that were different for the Celtics than the majority of their other snaps on Friday?

“Guys just wanted it,” McNary head coach Connor Astley said. “They attacked it, they read it and they went after it well.”

The Celtics came out of the gates ready. Their opening drive was long and methodical, aside from the deep completion to Ben Allen.

Astley felt they came out loose and ready, having fun. Alt could even be heard on the sidelines following their first drive saying how fun of a drive it was. 

But unfortunately, the following drives didn’t go quite so well. 

“It just seemed like we were chasing our tail,” Astley said. “It seemed like we could never catch up to them and that made us tight and we just couldn’t quite get there.”

After keeping the Saxons off the board, forcing a missed field goal attempt from in the red zone, the Celtics were unable to get anything going on offense. They went three-and-out, and a short punt was returned by South Salem to the McNary 12-yard line. 

With the short field, Saxons quarterback Daschel Smith — who leads the state in passing — connected with receiver Zach Wusstig for the score. It was the first of four touchdown pases from Smith. 

On the next possession for the Celtics, the Saxons pressured Alt, forcing an interception from junior linebacker Noah Sharer that was returned to the one-yard line. 

Jaxson Watson punched it in for South Salem to put them up 14-7 after the extra point. 

On their first two scoring drives, the Saxons went a total of 13 yards for 14 points. 

“I don’t care how good of a team you are, when a team starts on your 20-yard line or your 10-yard line it’s tough for you to stop them,” Astley said. 

Smith was pulled from the game after one drive in the third quarter, but he finished 11-for-14 for 202 yards. 

The Saxons and Smith average 35 pass attempts on the season. Friday night they seemed content keeping the ball on the ground. The Saxons had 10 players with at least one rushing attempt, gaining 101 yards on 21 carries. 

“They ran the ball quite a bit against South Medford, but it was always run the ball to set up the pass,” Astley said. “Tonight I felt like they said ‘no, we’re just going to pound the rock in. They took it to us.”

The Celtics struggled in all three facets of the game. Offensively, they struggled to move the ball outside of their three big plays.

Defensively, they allowed the Saxons to score on six of eight possessions in the first half. 

And on special teams, the Celtics continually gave up good field position from short punts and long returns. The Saxons’ Tini Tinitali III had 127 kick return yards on two attempts, including an 87-yard score to answer Lyda’s touchdown for the Celtics before halftime. 

“It killed us tonight to be blatantly honest,” Astley said. “It put us in bad spots that are hard to overcome.”

Unfortunately, it is difficult to mask shortcomings on special teams for a coach. So for Astley, the answer to their special teams problems is simple.

“Offense has to get better, defense has to get better,” Astley said. “We talk about it all the time as a team, you have to win two thirds of the game.”