Celtics can’t catch Lathen and Titans

The McNary Celtics and West Salem Titans came into Friday night both still searching for win number one on the season.

On paper it looked like it could be an intriguing matchup between two teams that have faced injuries and obstacles through the first six games.

But West Salem, on their Homecoming night, ran away with the game — quite literally —in the first half.

Running back Jimmy Lathen had four first half touchdowns for the Titans (1-6, 1-4). The senior finished with 13 carries for 171 yards, two fewer yards than the McNary offense totaled. Lathen scored from one yard, 16 yards, 48 yards and 66 yards out. 

“He’s a great runner, I don’t want to discredit anything from him, but we were not doing our job,” McNary head coach Connor Astley said. 

McNary (0-7, 0-5) had no answer for the 6-foot-4-inch 215-pound back, who was consistently able to work through the b-gap and get to the outside, despite the defense pinching and blitzing those spots.

Astley and the Celtics knew what the Titans would do on offense, some of it out of necessity. The Titans lost quarterback Kaden Martirano for the season on Sept. 23. Since Martirano went out, the Titans have rotated three behind center, including Lathen, and are even a run first, or one-step and throw offense. 

On Friday, West Salem only attempted seven passes, completing six for 69 yards.

The night started out well for the Celtics, but hiccups on offense brought two of the first three drives to screeching halts.

Jordan Araiza returned the opening kickoff across midfield to the West Salem 47-yard line, but the Celtics offense didn’t go much further. 

Two low snaps on the first two offensive plays started the offense in a hole. They faced a fourth-and-nine, and turned the ball over on downs to the Titans. 

West Salem’s offense had its own issues on the opening drive. A bad snap on fourth down ended with the punter’s knee on the ground, and McNary took over at West Salem’s 12-yard line.

The Celtics took advantage of the short field. Jake Allen went around the left side for a 10-yard score and a 7-0 lead.

They returned the gift of field position to the Titans on the ensuing kickoff. The Celtics tried to catch the Titans off guard, going for a pooch onside kick. But the Titans caught and covered the kick, starting at their own 45-yard line. 

The Titans made their way down the field, and Lathen reached the end zone for the first time, a 16-yard run on a quarterback draw on third-and-two. 

The third drive of the game was the longest for McNary, but it ended empty handed. 

Showing a new wrinkle in the offense, Allen taking the snaps out of the wildcat formation, the Celtics drove across midfield. But two delay of game penalties and a holding call backed them up into their own territory.

“I tell the kids all the time ‘you’ve got to battle through adversity,’ ‘you’ve got to move on,’ you have to have a short mindset.’ All these things that are cliches, but realistically it’s what it needs to be,” Astley said. “We were not mentally there in those moments, and it really killed us.”

And then things really started to unravel for the Celtics. 

On the Titans ensuing drive Lathen went 66 yards for the score and the lead. 

The Celtics then went three-and-out, and Lathen went 48 yards for another score on the first play, putting the Titans up 20-7. 

On the Celtics’ next possession, quarterback Jackson Alt was picked off by Jameson Lowery, who took the interception the distance for the score. Lathen capped it off with the two-point conversion. 

In the closing minutes of the second quarter, Allen, back in the wildcat, was intercepted by Tommy Slack. With less than 10 seconds remaining in the half, Lathen scored from the one-yard line.

As the Celtics came back out of the locker room down 35-7, thoughts of quickly getting back into the game might have been squashed. Jordan Senados opened the second half returning the kick more than 90 yards for the score.

The game got chippy in the third quarter. At one point, double personal fouls were called, and the Titans’ Jackson Collyer and McNary’s Ben Allen were both ejected from the game.

As the officials gathered to discuss things following the play, Astley gathered the team on the sideline.

“You’ve got to calm them down,” Astley said. “Keep the intensity up, but you’ve got to focus the intensity. We definitely did not have the focus in that moment.”

The loss of Ben Allen further thinned out an already injured linebacker corps for McNary. 

The Celtics came into the game with injury issues. They’ve lost four players to season ending injuries, and more injuries build up and keep players out of action every week. 

By the end of Friday, three of McNary’s top offensive weapons were on the sidelines without their helmets. Wide receiver Jabol Balos went down on the sidelines after a tackle, while running backs Jake Allen and Hunter Ruberto were both taken out for concussion protocols. 

After the game, Astley said that Balos’ injury was to the ribs, and he likely could have returned to the game.