Auburn buries Baker, advances to 2nd round

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By Wil Crews
sportscrews@opelikaobserver.com

The Auburn High defense recorded four interceptions in a 39–3 rout of Baker in the first round of the AHSAA Class 7A playoffs.

Two weeks ago, Auburn gave up multiple big plays and nearly 400 yards of offense in their regular-season finale loss to Enterprise. Auburn Head Coach Adam Windergarden was proud of the way his defense responded Friday night.

“When we play our best, we’re playing great defense,” Windegarden said after the game. 

What started as a highly contested game quickly turned into a blowout with Auburn scoring twice just before the half and again on their first drive of the third quarter. The Auburn defense gave the offense good field position all night and it was just a matter of time before they capitalized. 

Auburn quarterback Matthew Caldwell threw four touchdowns, two of them to his favorite target, Quay Ross, in the final 1:20 of the half. Caldwell tied the school record for passing touchdowns in a season with 18 and finished with 151 passing yards on top of his four touchdowns.

The game began with both teams trading scores. Auburn’s opening 55-yard drive was finished off by a 2-yard rushing score from senior running back J.T. Rogers.

Baker responded with an 84-yard catch and run on a slant route that set them up at the Auburn five-yard line. They couldn’t capitalize, however. The Auburn defense forced two negative plays and held Baker to a field goal. Auburn led 7–3 early, but from then until about three minutes before the half, the teams were in a stalemate. 

“I think we honestly played like a team that hadn’t played in a couple weeks,” Windergarden said. “I think it took us a little while to get in rhythm.”

Overall, Baker did a good job stacking the box on defense and limited the Auburn rushing attack with good tackling. Auburn in turn flipped the field to pin the one-dimensional, run-heavy Baker offense deep in their own territory.

“I think you have to give Baker some credit,” Windergarden said. “They did some things on offense that were difficult and had a lot of different pressures on defense that were tough to guard.”

With just over three minutes to go in first half the Auburn pass rush finally broke through and forced Baker quarterback Landon Lary into an errant pass which senior linebacker Sam Snyder intercepted near mid field.

Three plays later, Auburn quarterback Dylan Caldwell threw the first of his four touchdowns as he found the open Ross on a corner route in the back of the end zone. Auburn then used their timeouts on Baker’s next drive to force a three and out and to get the ball back with just under a minute in the half.

Caldwell wasted no time and threw just two passes before finding Ross for the score again. This time it was an 11-yard back-shoulder fade to the right corner of the end zone where Ross made a spectacular toe-tapping grab. The PAT was no good but Auburn had gained some breathing room and took a 20–3 lead into the break. Auburn had 224 yards at the half; subtract the 84-yard slant and Baker had only 46.

The rest of the game came with relative ease for Auburn. Baker’s first possession of the second half started with disaster as a muffed kickoff pinned them on the 4-yard line. They successfully gained enough wiggle room to punt, but the kick only went to the 22-yard line — giving Auburn great field position. The Tigers converted one third down before finding pay-dirt. Caldwell went play action this time and found tight end Creighton Williams running wide open in the back of the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown pass. The PAT was no good again; 26–3 Auburn.

Down three scores, Baker then began to air the ball out. And while the Auburn offense had found its footing in the passing game, the defense was doing the same. Ending what was a productive drive for Baker, Auburn got their second interception when senior safety Joey Mcginty made a diving pick on another wayward and hurried pass.

The next Baker drive ended when senior corner/receiver Quay Nelms intercepted a pass in the end zone. Nelms then caught an eight-yard touchdown pass from Caldwell with 9:52 remaining and returned his second interception of the game to the 12-yard line. Rogers was there to bookend the night’s scoring. The running back plunged into the endzone on the first play after the turnover; the PAT was no good; final score, Auburn 39, Baker 3.

“I’m thankful for the win and to get a chance to play next week,” Windergarden said.

Rogers finished with 18 carries for 85 yards, senior Bryson Clague had a team-high 71 receiving yards on five catches and Ross finished with four receptions for 65 yards.

The win moves Auburn to 10–1 on the season. Auburn will have home-field advantage in the playoffs until the prospective 7A championship game at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. Next, the Tigers will invite the Daphne Trojans into Duck-Samford Stadium on Friday. The Trojans defeated Prattville last week to advance to the second round.

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