Auburn regained its leader, sharpened its focus and gathered its stride to begin a push for the playoffs last Friday night.
Calvin Liulamaga, sidelined with a leg injury in last week’s blowout loss to Hazen, returned to direct the Trojans to a much-needed 37-29 North Puget Sound League Valley Division victory against Auburn Mountainview in the steady rain at Auburn Memorial Stadium.
The senior quarterback ran for 92 yards and two touchdowns, passed for a third and came up with the game-ending interception to douse a Lions’ comeback.
“He has a big impact on our team. He’s a big leader. He does a lot for us – on offense, defense, special teams,” running back Carter Casad said of Liulamaga. “And this is the game we had to have if we have a chance to make the playoffs.”
The win, which snapped Auburn’s four-game losing streak in the crosstown rivalry, keeps the Trojans (1-2 in the division, 2-4 overall) in the hunt for one of the Valley’s four league crossover playoff spots. The Lions, meanwhile, dropped to 1-1 and 1-5.
“We don’t need any help from other people. We are in control of our destiny,” Auburn coach Aaron Chantler said of his team’s fall forecast. “If you don’t win tonight … you will need a lot of help, but tonight we took care of this one.”
Auburn jumped out to a 21-0 lead, scoring on its first drive, a seven-play mix of Liulamaga’s short passes and runs that ended with his weaving 35-yard keeper.
Two interceptions from a ball-hawking defense fed a 21-0 halftime lead. Auburn had five interceptions in the game.
Late in the first quarter, Casad’s interception set up Liulamaga’s 19-yard TD pass to an untouched Ronna Brown on a screen play.
Midway in the second quarter, Timmy Marksbury stepped in front of the receiver and ran free, 44 yards to the end zone.
The Lions drove 82 yards in 10 plays to the Trojans’ 7, but Aadam Nasheed came up with an interception in the end zone with 38 seconds left in the half. Nasheed tried to return the ball out of the end zone but hesitated, and the Lions’ Cooper White ripped the ball away from him as his teammates shouted touchdown.
Officials, however, had blown the play dead.
“It should have been a touchdown,” said Lions coach Jared Gervais. “The (officials) said they had an inadvertent whistle that blew the play dead. … it was very strange. Our kids claim they didn’t hear the whistle. I don’t think the Auburn kids heard the whistle either, or they would have stopped.”
Looking to climb back into the game, the Lions had one fumble recovery negated by penalty but eventually cashed in on sophomore Berkley Alfrey’s 26-yard scoop-and-score with 4:21 left in the third quarter.
Quarterback Carson Klemetsen, who was making his first start in place of the injured Drew Davenport, scored on a 12-yard run on fourth-and-one to close the gap to 21-13 with 9:53 to play in the game.
But Auburn’s Josiah Fagan returned the ensuing kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown to put the lead at 29-13.
The Trojans’ third interception of the game, a Connor Howat pick, set up Liulamaga’s 1-yard TD run that stretched the lead to 37-13 at 5:30.
Auburn Mountainview responded with back-to-back trips to the end zone. Klemetsen hit Mark Tischenko on a 26-yard TD and found Bill Benjamin on the 2-point conversion, closing the gap to 37-21 with 4:21 to go.
After Auburn went three-and-out, the Lions drove quickly with Klemetsen scoring on a 2-yard run, then the junior quarterback hooked up with White for the 2-point conversion, narrowing the deficit to 37-29 with 1:57 remaining.
Auburn tried to run out the clock, but Auburn Mountainview got the ball back with 53 seconds. The Lions drove to the Trojans’ 39, but Liulamaga hauled in Klemetsen’s desperation, deep throw to end the game.
“We know when we play Mountainview they’re going to (play hard) all four quarters,” Chantler said. “It ended up a little closer than we would have liked, but hats off to them for continuing to fight.
“We’ve got to tighten some things up at the end of the game, but we came out with (the win), so we’re OK.”
The Lions overcame turnovers and a three-touchdown hole to stay in the game. Klemetsen settled in as the new trigger of the spread offense, following Davenport, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in last week’s loss to Kent-Meridian. Klemetsen completed 27 or 48 passes for 279 yards.
White finished with eight catches for 116 yards.
“We told them that we were proud of the way they played … we just got to find a way to do it for 48 minutes,” Gervais said. “We’re playing well at times. We’re just not piecing it together. … Auburn played well tonight. Their defense played hard and aggressive.”
Auburn registered four sacks. Brown had 12 tackles and Sammy Gordon finished with 14.
Auburn travels to Kentridge (5-1), the Sound Division champion, at 7 p.m. Friday at French Field. Auburn Mountainview hosted Kentlake (4-2) on Thursday.
At Tahoma 3, Auburn Riverside 0: Cory Soiseth’s 25-yard field goal in the second quarter held up as the Bears (1-2, 3-3) shut down the Ravens (0-3, 3-3) in an NPSL Mountain Division game in Maple Valley last Friday.
Javon Forward, the Ravens’ standout running back, did not play because of an ankle injury.
Jayden Solis ran for 99 yards on 18 carries for Auburn Riverside, which hosts Kennedy Catholic at 7 p.m. Friday.