By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
With two minutes left in a game against an undefeated opponent, the McNary High School varsity football team’s defensive line came up with its stop of the season last Friday, Oct. 21.
The visiting Sprague High School Olympians were at fourth and four to go as both teams set up at the line of scrimmage and thunderous stomping erupted from the stands. The clock stopped seven seconds later as Celt linebacker Todd Hatley brought down an Oly runner and the measuring chains were brought out on the field.
“All week the coaches had been running that screen against us and I just saw it out of the corner of my eye and I went after him,” Hatley said.
The crowd exploded again and many of the Celtics took to the air in leaps of joy as Sprague came up short in its drive allowing McNary to leave the field with a 27-26 victory.
“I think everyone was doing what they needed to and no one was trying to be a hero. They went out and did their assignment,” said linebacker Joel Hunter.
It was the Celts’ first Central Valley Conference win in nearly two years.
“They’ve had reasons to be down, but they keep working hard and playing to win,” said Rick Ward, McNary head coach.
It was rarely a pretty game for the Celts, but it got the job done.
The Olys started the game with a gut punch taking over the field from the 41-yard-line and sending Taylor Page into the Celtic end zone on a 59-yard running play to grab a 7-0 lead.
“It always takes one big play for us to wake up, but I feel like, after that, we really had the reigns on it,” said Corey White, Celt defensive back.
McNary’s offense fizzled on its next drive, but the defense held Sprague at the Celt 2-yard-line.
The two teams traded punts the next two drives, and McNary fell behind on penalties and plays for losses that left them at fourth and 34 to go. A roughing the kicker penalty on the punt allowed the Celts to take over at their own 38-yard-line. McNary took advantage of the second chance with running back Cody Bond charging the ball to Sprague 38-yard-line followed by a connection between quarterback Justin Burgess and receiver Mike Gerasimenko that put the team at first and goal. Bond drove it home to knot the game at 7-7 after a successful PAT by Gonzolo Cervantes.
Sprague’s drive ended when a tipped pass flew into the hands of Celt Garrett Hittner. McNary took over the field at Sprague’s 40-yard-line and first downs by Garren Robinett and Justin Gardner put the team near the red zone. A pass intended for Jacob Sperle resulted in a personal foul and put the team at fourth and goal on the four-yard-line. Burgess connected with Robinett to put the Celtics up 14-7 with 5:14 to go in the half.
White recovered an onside kick for the Celtics, but Oly John Marshall put the kibosh on the team’s hopes for a wider margin by picking off a pass from Celt D.J. Harryman and running it back for a touchdown. A failed PAT left Sprague behind at 14-13.
Harryman on keepers and Gardner on receptions traded first downs in the return drive and a personal foul moved the ball to Sprague 18-yard-line. Pass attempts to Gardner and Robinett were broken up or fell short, but Harryman connected with Austin Hejny on a 20-yard toss for a touchdown to lift McNary to a 21-13 lead. Big tackles by Mason Ross and Bond helped hold the Olys on their final drive of the half.
The Celts’ first drive of the second half ended in a fumble and recovery by the Olys. White almost came up with an interception as Sprague pushed toward the Celtic goal line. Another big tackle by Ross nearly stymied the Sprague effort, but they reached the end zone and cinched up the score to 21-19 after a two-point conversion was broken up by Hittner. Another interception ended the drive for the Celtics and Sprague pushed back for another touchdown and and 26-21 lead.
McNary mixed it up on the next long drive with Gardner, Harryman making downs. The Celts were at fourth and three yards to go when a Harryman pass was picked off in the end zone.
“A couple of times we had missed communication and wrong reads, but we’ll get it cleaned up,” White said.
Lineman Tyler Brown stripped the ball from the Oly’s quarterback on their return drive and McNary recovered it at Sprague 11-yard-line. A run by Bond put the Celts in the red zone and Harryman completed a short pass to Hejny for the final touchdown of the night at 9:28 in the fourth quarter.
McNary defense bottled up Sprague’s next drive and punctuated it with a violent tackle by Bond forcing a punt.
A Sprague interception put the Celt defense in a do-or-die situation with 2:53 left on the clock and Hittner, Burgess and White all came up with big plays that led to Hatley’s big stop.
The locker room was jubilant as the team prepared to start practices for its final conference game of the season. A win this week would likely pit McNary against Grant’s Pass High School Friday, Nov. 4.
“We’ll be looking at getting on a little bit of a roll here,” Ward said.
“The win was a huge boost to our morale and everyone is ready to get out there and play again,” Hatley added. “I think it will be fun because we’ll be able to have some fun again doing the things that we want to do.”