By Harrison Tarr
For the Observer
Football at any level is built on the basis of talent, hard work, passion for the game and the community which teamsrepresent.
The sport is physical by nature; when the idea of a “win-or-go-home” scenario is introduced, passion can often take center stage. For fans of the Auburn High School football program, the hometown Tigers’ 56-21 victory in the second round of the state playoffs was a prime example of passion taking full control of players’ actions.
Auburn head coach Keith Ethredge’s squad came out of the gates hot, receiving the opening kickoff and immediately going to work on the offensive side of the ball. It took the Tigers three snaps and just over one minute of game time to post their first touchdown via a 3-yard rushing attempt from senior running back Killian Massey.
“That goes back to our offensive coaching staff,” Etheredge said. “They do a lot of film work and I think that paid off right there. We scored quick.”
The blue and white’s opponents made sure to convey that they were not going down without a fight on the ensuing drive, posting an impressive 79-yard touchdown pass.
“They’re going to answer,” Etheredge said. “They’re that good of an offense, that good of a team offensively.”
Auburn’s offense was not done rolling in the first period of play, however; the squad marched its way down the field for the second time of the evening, capping the drive off with a 2-yard rushing touchdown from standout senior running back Da’vioun Williams.
“Williams was a work horse tonight,” Etheredge said. “I thought Killian had some great runs too. Just super excited for those guys because they put in a lot of work this season and do a great job of blocking in the backfield.”
When the contest rolled into the second period of play, both squads saw improved play by their respective defensive units; the scoring trend did not cease. Etheredge’s defense forced the Wildcats into a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, giving senior wide receiver Bakari Dailey the opportunity to return the punt for yet another Auburn touchdown.
“It’s big,” Etheredge said. “It’s big right before half to get that.”
After what seemed to be a demoralizing seven additional points on its opponent, the blue and white defense went back to work, seeking to shut down the Wildcat offense yet again and effectively capture all momentum. Enterprise had other plans.
Despite being pinned deep in their own territory, the Wildcat offense found a way to break open a hole in the Auburn defense, tearing off an 86-yard touchdown rush and bringing the squad within a possession of tying the contest.
The one-possession difference was short-lived with the Auburn offense marching back down the field on back-to-back drives, finding paydirt via a 1-yard rush from Williams and a 26-yard reception from Dailey.
“We get a stop, then we get the ball to Bakari at the end of the half,” Etheredge said. “All those plays mean a lot. Especially in a game like this.”
When the first half drew to a close, the hometown Tigers found themselves in firm control of the contest, leading 36-14.
The Auburn defense carried its dominant momentum into the second half, forcing the Wildcats into another 3-and-out, giving the blue and white offense the opportunity to find paydirt once again on Massey’s second trip to the endzone, pushing the Tiger lead to 35.
From there, tension between the two squads escalated. The Tigers willed the Cats into another turnover and an intense shoving match commenced on the ensuing Auburn drive.
Etheredge’s message to his team was clear.
“Don’t get into that,” Etheredge said. “Just play football. We can’t get into the mouthing, the pushing back-and-forth. If they push you, just put your hands up and walk away. We’ve got to be better than that.”
The altercation resulted in an ejected member of the Enterprise sideline and a follow-up ejection of the next Wildcat to commit a personal foul.
From that point on, the atmosphere in the stadium was that of tangible tension as fans began to verbally communicate their desire to simply put the contest away and move on before further escalation of the situation.
Enterprise responded to the ejections by posting another seven points, only to be countered by an Auburn touchdown drive orchestrated by sophomore backup quarterback Davis Harsin, leaving the score at its final of 56-21.
With its second-round opponent now in the rear-view, Auburn will prepare to take on its most difficult opponent — and only previous region loss — in 2021: Caleb Nix and the Central High School Red Devils. The state semi-finals will take place this Friday in Phenix City at 7 p.m. CST.