McNary Football

Celtics show promise despite season opening loss

Jeremiah Tracy fights through the McMinnville defense on Sept. 1, 2023, at McNary High School. (JOSHUA MANES/Keizertimes)
Izeyah Contreras stiff arms McMinville’s Tyler Ackerman as they near the sideline on Sept. 1, 2023, at McNary High School. (JOSHUA MANES/Keizertimes)


Of the Keizertimes

The result might not have been in the Celtics favor, but Friday’s season opener looked to be a massive step in the right direction following 2022’s winless season. 

The 26-19 final score at home against McMinnville High School was closer than any game last season when the Celtics were outscored by an average of 36 points per game.

“They’ve come a long way from where they were last season and that’s what I told them,” head coach Connor Astley said. “Scoreboard, wins and losses, you don’t remember those 50 years from now, but these kids are amazing and I just want them to know that.” 

And Astley wasn’t the only one to see a difference.

“[The effort] was a thousand times better,” senior tight end and defensive end Evan Lawson said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve actually been in a game and it just feels amazing.”

And they certainly were in it.

With nine minutes left in the game, senior quarterback Gage Smedema tied the game at 19 on a 66 yard rushing touchdown off a read option. It was Smedema’s second rushing touchdown of the game.

“When Gage is out there, you never know what’s going to happen,” Astley said.

Smedema was a big piece missing last season for the Celtics following a broken collarbone in the first game of the season, and his athleticism and running ability at the quarterback position gives the Celtic offense a new dimension.

“It felt great just to be back on the field,” Smedema said. “Obviously with my injury last year, just getting out here and actually getting to do my thing just felt good.”

Unfortunately for Smedema and the Celtics, they were unable to make up for a slow start that included turnovers on each of their first two possessions, leading to 12 McMinnville points, and some defensive lapses. 

But they seemed to calm down, getting through the early nerves to start the season, something Astley attributed to the number of new players and players returning from injuries last season. 

“We just had to get the little jitters out, had to wipe off the dust a little bit, but I feel like we’re going to do good things this year,” Smedema said. “We just need to stick to the plan and put the work in.”

While the offense settled, and the defense came out and forced two big turnovers in the second half, a fumble on the opening kickoff and a fumble recovered on the McMinnville 1-yard line. 

But there were still some issues on the defensive end that kept the Celtics from taking control.

McMinnville running back Hayden Church had two scores  including the final score of the game to give the Grizzlies the lead, as well as some key first downs.

McMinnville converted two critical fourth downs to help them kill most of the clock in the final minutes of the game.

“Proper tackling, better leverage and fill in the gaps, that’s basic football right there,” Astley said.

The Celtics will have another chance to earn Astley his first win as a head coach when they travel to Beaverton High School on Thursday, at 7 p.m.