The close of the regular season is getting closer, as the Celtics are set for their final game of the season, a road trip to face the Sprague Olympians.
Sprague (4-4, 3-3) have had an up and down season, alternating losses and wins for the first six, with all four wins at home, and the four losses on the road.
The Celtics hope to be able to break the home superiority of the Olympians, and it’s a home field head coach Connor Astley knows well.
Astley graduated from Sprague in 2013, playing for current Sprague head coach Jay Minyard. He’s been back since, and any oddness that his homecoming might have had has worn off by now.
“It felt weird the first year when I was coaching here, and I was coaching against my brother who was playing, he was a senior then,” Astley said. “I love Sprague, I love my time there, I love coach Minyard, but when those lights turn on and those whistles blow, that’s the next opponent.”
It might be thought that Astley’s experience with Minyard and the Sprague system would give him some insight and an edge.
“No,” Astley said while half laughing. “They know what they’re going to run, everyone knows what they’re going to run. Knowing all of that is nice, it gets our guys in the right spots, but at the end of the day we’ve always got to execute. Some of the benefits of them being so simple is they’re really good at running it because they rep it 500 times a week.”
Twice they’ve scored 56 points, home wins against Beaverton and Roseburg. The Olympians are averaging 41.5 points in their wins this season, all of which have come at home.
But in their losses, all on the road, the offense has struggled at times. They’ve averaged 12.5 points in defeat, including a 41-0 shutout loss at No. 3 Sheldon — the Celtics lost to the Irish 62-6 earlier in the season.
And while they like to run the ball, the Olympians key piece — on both sides of the ball — is wide receiver and defensive back Drew Rodriguez. A Colorado State commit, the senior came into the season with lofty goals of player of the year both on offense and defense.
Rodriguez has nine receiving touchdowns, and another three non offensive scores.
The Celtics will have to find ways to not let Rodriguez dictate the flow of the game on both sides of the ball.
“He’s a phenomenal player,” Astley said. “We’ve got some schematic things to try and help us out, but he practices too. He’s going to get out, he’s going to get loose, and we just try to contain the damage.”
And McNary could be getting some pieces back this week to help them do so.
Linebacker Ben Allen is returning after sitting out against North Medford following his ejection the prior week against West Salem.
According to Astley, linebacker and running back Hunter Ruberto could be cleared to play, coming back from a concussion. Meanwhile, Ruberto’s fellow running back and linebacker, and Ben’s brother, Jake Allen is expected to miss his second straight game with a concussion.