McNary wideout Gunner Smedema had 107 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the Celtics 35-13 victory (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

In their opening game of the 2021 season, McNary controlled the contest from start to finish.

McNary quarterback Tyler Copeland went 14-of-18 for 211 yards and three touchdowns in his first start under center, and Dakota Dunagan ran for 125 yards and two scores on 14 carries as the Celtics blew past South Medford, winning by a final score of 35-13 on Friday, Sept. 3.

According to McNary head coach Jeff Auvinen, the key to the Celtics success was dictating the game in the trenches. McNary maintained a balanced offensive attack with 211 passing yards and 239 rushing yards, while the defense stopped the run for most of the night and forced South Medford to become one-dimensional.

“We really controlled the line-of-scrimmage. When you do that, you have a good chance of being really successful,”Auvinen said. “It was nice for us to be as physical as we were.”

“I got to shout out the O-line. They really showed up. I have never been more impressed with them,” Copeland added. “They gave me a chance to read the field and do what I had to do.”

Despite being his first varsity start at quarterback, it didn't take long for Copeland to get comfortable.

On McNary's first play from scrimmage, Copeland hit Gunner Smedema with a hitch pass and the senior wideout weaved through the South Medford defense to go 75 yards for the score, giving the Celtics the early 7-0 lead.

“Once I caught it I saw Logan Ready got a great block to seal the outside, and then all I saw was one defender coming. I gave a hard stick to the left, and I was free,” said Smedema, who finished the night with four catches for 107 yards and two touchdowns, as well as an interception on defense.

Copeland connected with Smedema once again for a 13-yard score early in the second quarter to extend McNary's lead to 14-0.

Copeland continued to find his rhythm throughout the first half, taking advantage of South Medford's Cover 3 zone defense by hitting his receivers with quick passes, and letting them operate in space — Copeland completed eight of his first 10 passes for 132 yards, with only one of his completions traveling more than five yards downfield.

“I had to knock the rust off. It's been a couple years since I played QB, so hitting those short routes really got me into a groove,” Copeland said. “Not a lot was open deep, so I was hitting a lot of hitches and bubbles and letting my players play.”

“They were playing deep coverage and it left a lot of open space for hitches and inside routes. Our game plan was to hit those short routes and just play in space,” Smedema said.

However, a costly interception by Copeland gave South Medford the ball on the Celtics four-yard line — the Panthers scored two plays later to make it a one-possession game.

But when McNary got the ball back late in the period, the Celtics were able to give themselves a little breathing room going into the half.

A pair of first down runs from Zane Aicher put the Celtics inside the 40-yard line. McNary receiver Braiden Copeland was flagged for a personal foul, putting the ball back into Celtics territory, but the junior receiver would redeem himself later in the drive.

On third-and-14, Tyler Copeland found his little brother, Braiden, for a 15-yard completion to move the sticks. The next play, Braiden caught a short pass in soft coverage, but broke a tackle and carried two defenders into the end zone for a 24-yard score with 19 seconds left in the half, putting McNary on top 21-7.

After beating the Panthers through the air in the first half, McNary's wore down South Medford with the ground game in the final 24 minutes. Dunagan, as well as junior running back Hunter Ruberto, had multiple first down runs in the Celtics first drive of the second half, which took nearly six minutes off the clock and was concluded with an eight-yard touchdown run by Dunagan.

“We played great on the line. It helped me out a lot for sure,” Dunagan said.

Even with a three-score lead, the McNary front four continued to get constant pressure on South Medford quarterback Deacon Edgar.

“Our defense set the tone. We got by with very little stunting because our big guys were getting pressure on them with only bringing four, which helped us be able to drop into coverage,” Auvinen said.

With a 28-7 lead in the fourth period, Dunagan ended his night with a highlight-reel touchdown run.

The senior tailback got the ball on a sweep to the right side, picking up a first down before being wrapped up by a defender. But Dunagan never went to the ground, using his off-arm to keep himself upright.

Dunagan, as well as the opposing defense, paused for a split-second, thinking that he was down by contact. But once Dunagan realized that the whistle hadn't blown, he sprinted untouched into the end zone for the 59-yard score.

“A guy got me around the legs, but I kept my hand up to keep myself up. I stopped because I initially thought I heard the whistle blow, but I realized that my knee never touched the ground. The ref kind of gave me this weird face, so I was like 'oh I can still go' so I just booked it,” Dunagan said. “I think stopping might have worked out for me because if I had kept running I think they would have tackled me.”

McNary travels to Newberg on Friday, Sept. 10 for a 7 p.m. game.

Matt Rawlings: [email protected]