By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes
SALEM—McNary’s offense landed two haymakers in the first four minutes and the defense then finished the job in the second half as the Celtics knocked out one of the giants of the Greater Valley Conference, West Salem, 33-32 on Friday, Oct. 28.
“This has been a long time coming,” said senior Kolby Barker, who had yet to defeat the Titans in his high school career. “We were ready to take it to West with everything we had. We were not going to lose this game. It’s personal pride for this senior class and everybody. This is something we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.”
McNary jumped out to a 13-0 lead at West Salem.
On fourth-and-1 from the Titan 4-yard line, quarterback Josiah Gilbert fought his way into the end zone to complete a six-play, 76-yard drive. The extra point was no good.
After the Celtic defense forced a three-and-out, the offense needed only one play to strike again as Gilbert found his favorite receiver, Brendan Van Voorhis, for a 72-yard touchdown.
“That (13-0 start) probably gave us the confidence that we could be in this game and win the game,” Van Voorhis said.
But West Salem, who entered the contest 7-0 in league-play and needed a victory to win the GVC outright, wasn’t going down without a fight.
The Titans marched 73 yards on nine plays in four and half minutes to get within 13-7 when quarterback Jared Oliver threw a play-action fade pass into the left corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
Aided by a defensive pass interference penalty, Oliver found another open receiver in the end zone to put West Salem on top, 14-13, early in the second quarter.
On his first carry of the game, A.J. Johnk sliced through the Titan defense for a 20-yard score to put McNary back ahead 19-14 with 7:36 remaining in the first half.
With first-and-goal at the West Salem 9-yard line, the Celtics looked to add to the scoreboard but a holding penalty pushed them back to the 22 and then Gilbert was intercepted.
Instead, the Titans closed the second half on a 15-0 run as Oliver threw two more touchdown passes.
“I didn’t know which way we were going to respond,” McNary head coach Jeff Auvinen said as his team entered halftime trailing 29-19.
West Salem got the ball first in the second half and went right down the field. But on first-and-goal from the McNary 2-yard line, the Celtic defense held the Titans to a 22-yard field goal.
The goal-line stand was a sign of things to come as McNary held West Salem scoreless for the rest of the night.
“That was huge for us,” Auvinen said. “We collected ourselves and then made some adjustments as far as coverage goes as far as our pressure package goes. We just played harder. Put Kolby in the quarterback’s (Oliver) face on his preferred side and that seemed to work really well.”
The Celtics also had to play the entire second half without Lucas Garvey, the team’s best cornerback and leading rusher, who suffered a head injury midway through the second quarter.
Isaiah Rhodes, a senior who transferred to McNary in the middle of the season from Pennsylvania, stepped up on defense.
“He’s worked hard to make us better and it helped us tonight, that’s for sure,” Auvinen said.
Johnk got more carries on offense. His biggest came after Gilbert got the Celtics within 32-25 on a 2-yard touchdown run with 2:20 remaining in the third quarter. Behind a block from Van Voorhis, Johnk got to the sideline and raced 53 yards into the end zone.
“Brendan Van Voorhis made a great block to help me out on the outside and I was just free,” Johnk said. “We really wanted this badly. Lucas is great. We all trust each other to make plays and get the job done. Our offense doesn’t change on who goes in. We can all do the same stuff, just have to be ready.”
Having already missed two extra points and a third blocked, Auvinen decided to go for two and Marc Baiza bulldozed his way into the end zone to put McNary ahead 33-32 late in the third quarter.
The rest was up to the Celtic defense, which forced a punt and then turned West Salem over on downs twice in the fourth quarter to seal the victory.
“I knew the whole time we were going to get it,” Barker said. “I didn’t let doubt come into my mind one bit. I gave it everything I had. We all did. It was all around a fantastic effort and that’s what you’ve got to do to beat a team like this. I give all the credit to West. They’re a great team but tonight we showed we’re better.”
Gilbert threw for 163 yards and rushed for 80. Johnk had 135 yards on the ground. Van Voorhis caught four passes for 102 yards.
McNary finished the regular season 6-3 and will travel to Tigard Friday, Nov. 4 for the first round of the OSAA state playoffs.
“These kids just keep battling and playing,” Auvinen said. “It’s fun to watch them compete.”