Thursday night’s season finale against Sprague may not have gone their way on the scoreboard, but McNary football has something to build off heading into next season after sophomore quarterback Arris Vasseur threw for three touchdowns in the 62-27 loss — just his fourth start of the season and his varsity career.
“I really felt like tonight was his coming out party, and it was really a preseason to what’s to come in the next two years for him. It was fantastic to see,” McNary head coach Connor Astley said.
The sophomore shined on senior night as the Celtic offense took to the air more than previous games, and took more shots downfield than in recent weeks. There have been times throughout the season that the Celts may have left some downfield opportunities on the table,
But on Thursday, Vasseur took a few shots downfield, and more often than not they resulted in good things for McNary. According to Astley, it was a combination of what they saw from the Sprague secondary, as well as the growth of his young QB.
“He felt comfortable, he felt confident to take those shots,” Astley said. “There was a lot of dinking and dunking that we did, but when the opportunity presented itself, he took it.”
Vasseur looked increasingly comfortable and confident compared to his previous starts, despite consistent pressure from the Sprague defense. Maybe it has something to do with preparation. Astley noted that no one watches more tape than Vasseur in the days leading up to a game.
But Vasseur stayed humble after Thursday’s game.
“My team’s my family, I couldn’t have done it without them, my coaches,” Vasseur said. “It’s just a hard, tough position. Tough thing to get into midway, losing our star quarterback, it’s tough.”
The Celtics lost senior Gage Smedema five weeks in following a loss at North Salem. But Smedema’s injury may have had a silver lining for McNary as it gave Vasseur some vital varsity experience.
That experience gives the Celtics something heading into next season they haven’t had for some time, a two-year starter at quarterback. McNary hasn’t had a QB start more than one season for five years. Eric Barker was the last Celtic signal caller to play more than just his senior season.
“It’ll be really nice to have that consistency and to have that guy who’s leading the ship for a number of years and not just one year as a senior and it’s his time to shine and now we get a guy who gets to lead us for years and it’s really exciting,” Astley said.
And Vasseur recognizes how these four games will help him in the coming seasons.
“It’s going to boost me through my junior and senior year. It’s going to help me push through all the challenges that I’m going to face next year and the year after that,” Vasseur said.
Unfortunately for Vasseur and the Celtics, the challenges of Thursday night couldn;t be overcome.
The Olympians jumped out to an early lead, up 21-0 with more than four minutes left in the first quarter. But even with the early deficit the Celts stayed close, and looked like they may have a chance to pull within one score multiple times in the game.
But Sprague was able to stay out ahead by multiple touchdowns, and two key fourth down conversions helped them do so.
In the second quarter the Olympians faced a fourth-and-six from the Celtic 23-yard line. QB Dukatti Witherspoon completed a pass to the near sideline to pick up the first, and about a minute later the Olympians scored to push the lead to 28-7.
In the third quarter, a fourth-and-three ended as a four-yard touchdown run for Sprague, once again extending the lead back to 21.
“Those are game changing plays right there for sure,” Astley said. “I felt like our defense played hard, but just sometimes they were either out of position by that one step, or maybe they just were misaligned entirely and had to catch up.”
Down 14 again later in the third, the Celts faced their own fourth down. Following a Sprague fumble, McNary had the ball across midfield. Vasseur had just connected with Cameron Harrington for a touchdown, as well as picking up the two point conversion on a pass to Jordan Arraiza.
But despite their young QB possibly being hot, the Celts ran the ball the first three plays of the drive going nowhere and facing a fourth-and-13. On the fourth down play, Vasseur was forced to scramble, picking up nine but coming up short of the first-down marker.
“I trust what Coach McGrath does on the offense, and I know we trusted our line to give us some play,” Astley said. “I mean, we ran the ball really, really well for a good chunk there. And so I don’t have a problem with the play calls. I think we just needed to execute better.”
The loss wrapped up a second consecutive winless season for Astley and the Celtics, but they seem to head into the offseason in a better place than the last two years.