After a bumpy 0-4 start, the Auburn Mountainview football team has found a smoother road.
And lately, the Lions have been enjoying the ride.
Combining big-play offense with big-down defense, the Lions of Lea Hill withstood gusts, diagonal rain and rival Auburn to post a crucial 30-17 North Puget Sound League Olympic Division win at Auburn Memorial Stadium on Friday night.
Relieved and elated, quarterback Sui Daniels was lost for words after the emotional victory that kept the Lions (2-2 division, 2-4 overall) in the district playoff hunt.
Auburn (2-2, 4-2) dropped its second straight game.
“That was the biggest win of the our season, by far,” said Daniels, who completed 15 of 28 passes for 197 yards and three touchdowns, two to BYU-bound wideout Talan Alfrey. “Honestly, I felt like it determined our season. … This is amazing.”
In a five-week span, Auburn Mountainview had lost two games by a combined five points between lopsided setbacks to heralded Lincoln and crosstown monster Auburn Riverside. But a 36-10 road win against Thomas Jefferson last week kick-started the Lions.
“The beginning of our season was probably the hardest part,” Daniels said. “But it’s been building. Our team is better. We’re starting to do our jobs better. Everything seems to be clicking.”
Daniels was roughed up in the pocket but found Alfrey for two big plays in the first half that gave Auburn Mountainview the early edge.
After a Trojans’ wind-blown 4-yard punt, the Lions scored immediately, with Daniels hitting Alfrey on a quick-out delivery that the receiver took behind a screen and blasted down the sideline for 38 yards and the game’s first touchdown.
Another poor punt helped set up the Lions’ next TD – Daniels’ 4-yard connection to Damarea Dunnigan that capped a 15-play, 54-yard drive with 1:03 left to go in the first quarter.
Later, a Lions’ fake punt attempt came up short of a first down, and the Trojans capitalized seven plays later on Joe Fagan’s 8-yard TD run.
But Daniels and Alfrey struck again, this time from long distance – a 67-yard scoring play. Alfrey patiently judged the deep ball and hauled in the pass before outracing Justice Tuia to the end zone for a 21-7 Lions lead with 6:08 left in the second quarter.
Alfrey’s two scoring plays were huge swings in the game, said Auburn coach Gordon Elliott
“Talan’s a difference maker. He’s everything he’s cracked up to be,” Elliott said. “(Alfrey’s) a guy who’s powerful enough where you can’t tackle him on the line of scrimmage and fast, good enough to get past you. Erase those two plays and it’s a pretty good ballgame.”
The teams exchanged field goals – Marcus Martin’s 21-yarder for the Trojans just before halftime and Carlos Huizar’s 42-yard knuckler for the Lions in the third quarter.
Alfrey scored his third TD, directly taking the snap and plowing into the end zone from the 4 with 10:52 to play.
Auburn scored on quarterback Calvin Liulamaga’s 10-yard run with 3:30 to go.
Alfrey finished the game with 187 all-purpose yards – collecting seven passes for 147 yards – and producing a team-leading 11 tackles from his free safety position.
“Talan is amazing,” Daniels said. “I love having him on my team. He makes my job easier. He makes me look good. He’s a great player, great athlete.”
In victory, coach Jared Gervais saw progress. His defense stepped up with fourth-down stops and the running game has picked up behind the play of an improving line and backs Drew Davenport and junior transfer Isaiah Kenard.
“We just had our kids keep working and trying to get them to believe,” he said. “Now we’re back in the playoff hunt … so we are all right there kinda in the middle (of the standings). … It’s a tough road to the playoffs. We’re just going to keep grinding and see where things fall.”
In defeat, the Trojans have to pick up the pieces.
“This hurts. Two losses,” said Fagan, who ran for 107 yards. “We have to keep our heads up. We have to focus. Our goal is the playoffs.”
Elliott knows the weeks ahead will be just as difficult.
“Now our destiny is in other teams’ hands. You don’t like to be there,” he said of the playoff race. “We still have to play three playoff-caliber teams, so hopefully we can pull ourselves back into it.”
The Trojans host Federal Way on Thursday. The Lions host Todd Beamer next Friday.