West Albany High’s path to the postseason just got a whole lot tougher.

In a key Greater Valley Conference football matchup, penalties and mistakes doomed the Bulldogs in a 16-8 loss to McNary on a rainy Thursday night at Memorial Stadium.

West (4-3, 3-3) entered the game tied for fourth in the GVC standings, half a game back of the Celtics (5-2, 5-2).

The top four GVC teams receive automatic bids to the 6A state playoffs.

“Another game of missed opportunities,” West coach Brian Mehl said. “Penalties that prevented drives from continuing. I don’t know how many penalties there were tonight, but it seemed like the yellow flags were all over the place and it seemed like we had a lot of those. And a lot of those were unsportsmanlike penalties in combination with key holding penalties.

“We did had some drives where we ran the ball effectively, but our own undoing led to drive killers. Our offense is going to have a hard time overcoming those types of situations.”

The Bulldogs are now locked in a three-way tie for fourth with South Salem (3-4, 3-3) and McMinnville (4-3, 3-3). West, which does own the tiebreaker with the Saxons, travels to Sprague (6-1, 5-1) next week and closes the regular season at home against the Grizzlies.

Power back Junior Walling rushed for 98 yards on 28 carries and a touchdown to pace the Celtics’ offense. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound bruiser also caught a TD in the first half on a broken coverage. 

Walling’s second score of the evening gave McNary a 16-0 lead midway through the third quarter.

West made it interesting late when Riley Ker got behind the Celtics defense for a 52-yard receiving TD with 2:22 remaining. Riley Baumann then ran in the two-point conversion on a reverse, cutting the deficit to 16-8.

McNary recovered the onside kick and picked up a first down to ice it.

“They made some plays in key moments, and we didn’t,” Mehl said. “We were playing catch-up and the weather didn’t allow us to do the things we needed to do to beat that type of team.”

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The Bulldogs rushed for 126 yards as a team, led by Caulin Leach’s 52-yard performance on just six carries.

Quarterback Nick Fleetwood connected on 5 of 14 passes for 103 yards with a TD and two big interceptions. Fleetwood also ran it six times for 28 yards.

Sophomore Erik Barker was steady for the Celtics, completing 20 of 29 for 216 yards with a TD and a pick.

Following a scoreless opening quarter, McNary dropped Oreon Courtney in the end zone for an 8-yard loss on a fly sweep. Barker then hit a wide open Walling on a fourth-down wheel route for a 24-yard score, putting the visitors up 9-0 with 7:37 to play in the period.

“We blew that coverage and I was surprised they were able to get that,” Mehl said. “They really grind you, and I thought our defense played outstanding to hold them to 16 points. They gave us every opportunity to win that game.”

The Bulldogs reached scoring position during a pair of first-half drives. One ended on a Fleetwood interception while the other stalled due to penalties.

A costly personal foul derailed another promising drive in the third quarter. Fleetwood was picked again near the goal line with McNary leading 16-0 early in the fourth.

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