By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes
SALEM—McNary’s turnaround continued here.
Behind Junior Walling’s 223 yards rushing and four touchdowns, the Celtics defeated West Salem 35-23 last Friday to improve to 3-0 in the Mountain Valley Conference.
Like any good running back, Walling credited the offensive line.
“I give it all to my line,” Walling said. “They gave huge holes for me and made it easy for me and (quarterback) Erik (Barker) to do our thing.”
Senior Wyatt Sherwood returned to the line after missing five games with a concussion.
“We came in this week jacked,” Sherwood said. “We were excited for this game. We were ready. We knew this game was going to be big for us. We took this game and we went at it head on. We hit it hard. We were being the hammer, not the nail. That was the motto tonight, hammer, not the nail. We won it everywhere. Our whole team. We played phenomenal. We’re a great team overall.”
Wearing a new number, 38, Sherwood also lined up at tight end, catching three passes for 44 yards.
“(Offensive coordinator Brad) Emmert just decided that we should put in a tight end package and he chose me as the guy,” Sherwood said. “I’ve never played there. I’ve been offensive and defensive line my whole life. I never caught any passes, no routes, never taken any hits like that. It was a fun experience. It felt pretty natural.”
McNary jumped out to a 14-0 lead at West Salem on two touchdown runs by Walling.
But the Titans answered with 10 points at the end of the first half on a 6-yard touchdown run by quarterback Simon Thompson and then a 32-yard field goal by Kyla Gordon with the clock expired after West Salem got an extra play thanks to a defensive holding penalty on McNary.
The Titans then took the lead when Thompson connected with Anthony Gould for a 33-yard touchdown just 20 seconds into the third quarter.
But West Salem’s lead didn’t last long as Walling broke loose down the McNary sideline for a 42-yard touchdown run to put the Celtics back on top, 21-17, with 10:30 remaining in the third quarter.
After Jacob Jackson added a 5-yard touchdown run to extend McNary’s lead to 28-17, the Titans needed only one play to answer as Gould took a reverse 45 yards to get West Salem within 28-23 entering the fourth quarter.
But McNary’s defense shut out West Salem in the final 12 minutes and Walling scored his fourth touchdown with 2:23 remaining.
Jackson then intercepted Thompson with 2:01 remaining to seal the victory.
Thompson completed just 12 of 35 pass attempts for 275 yards. Gould caught four passes for 78 yards.
“I was really proud of the whole defense,” McNary head coach Jeff Auvinen said. “Nigel (Harris) did a great job of keeping Gould in check. The biggest part of our game plan was to not let him beat us. He still scored two touchdowns.That guy is really good. Oregon State signed him for a reason. He’s really fast.”
Gould predicted six touchdowns on Twitter, which McNary’s defense was well aware of.
“It just motivated me even more,” Harris said. “I just kept it classy. I didn’t say a word to him. We just had to be mentally tough. We had a good game plan going in and I was confident. (Safety) Griffin (Oliveira) was over the top. Just being aggressive. I didn’t go in scared. I think in previous years we were. This year we knew we had it.”
West Salem tight end Micah Pugh caught six passes for 144 yards.
Barker completed 11 of 19 passes for 156 yards and also rushed for 62 yards.
The Celtics close the regular season this Friday at home against South Salem with a chance to win the conference championship.