AUBURN, Mass. -- Talk about well-coached.
The No. 9 Auburn Rockets reached a milestone tonight in a dominant 35-6 win over No. 19 St. Peter-Marian, extending its state-best win streak to 40 games, good for third-longest active streak in the nation. Not only was it a stellar performance by the Rockets' front four -- which pressured the Guardians (2-1) and their star quarterback Steve Flynn into two interceptions, and held SPM to 83 yards of offense in the first half -- but the Rockets turned in arguably one of the season's most impressive rushing performances.
Behind a steady four-pronged attack of running backs Dan Flink (15 carries, 191 yards, 2 TD), Bobby Sivret (12 carries, 106 yards, 2 TD), Fred Taylor (five carries, 79 yards) and Tyler Desjardins, the varsity of the Rockets (3-0) racked up 462 rushing yards on the Guardians. They set the tone right from the get-go when on the second play of the game, Flink slipped inside of a kickout block from Aaron Dyke and ran a tackle-lead counter 70 yards straight up the gut, all the way down to the five, setting up Drew Goodrich's four-yard scamper two plays later.
"It was a great play, the offensive line did exactly what they had to do," Flink said, adding with a laugh, "I just wish I had some breakaway speed to finish it off."
Three plays into SPM's ensuing drive, Flink came up with an interception on the right sideline, setting up an easy 35-yard scoring drive, punctuated with a six-yard plunge by Flink for a 13-0 score with less than six minutes played.
That set the tone the rest of the way. And in the post-game, the Rockets spoke like a team that not only expected to win, but knew exactly how to act and what they were going to tell reporters.
"I mean, once again, we're just 3-0 right now," Flink smiled.
Said Auburn head coach Jeff Cormier, "We're at three, and we're looking for four next week, and our second one at home. Then hopefully we can get our fourth win next week, and keep rolling."
Longfellow couldn't have said it better.
Some key points from the game:
What a wagon: When informed that his varsity racked up 462 yards on the ground, Cormier cracked, "We're giving Brady a run for his money, huh?"
No matter how you cut it, 462 is the number that sticks out most in this game. Anchored by tackles Steve Domenick and Will Greelish; guards Matt Ramirez and Aaron Dyke; and center Jordan Giampa, the Rockets had their way with the St. Pete front seemingly all night. A group comprised entirely of underclassmen that averages roughly 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds across, they gave the appearance of a unit that has been together for three years, not one.
"Our line stepped up big," Taylor said. "Everybody basically had their A-game."
How difficult is it to prepare for a unit Auburn's? The Rockets ran a fair amount of double-tight jumbo sets tonight, with ends Mykal Diaz and Eric Chionchio providing even more of a mismatch; and with line splits anywhere between one to six inches, that took away some blitz packages right off the bat.
The Guardians saw this tight-split look last week when they took down Shepherd Hill and its vaunted double-wing scheme, but still found themselves outmatched in this one.
"Number one, they're huge, they're the biggest team in Central Mass," SPM head coach Tom Henrickson said. "But they're foot-to-foot and they don't have any gaps. And the backs just bounce off of them, they wait and see a hole and read. It's all zone blocking. They do a great job at that, they're well-coached."
As noted above, the Rockets kept things fresh in the backfield by platooning four running backs. By the second quarter, the wear and tear was evident, as the speedy Taylor danced his way to runs of 25, 22 and 18, totaling 74 yards rushing in that stanza. Flink then made another long run, this time for a score, as he followed a convoy up the left sideline on a sweep before throwing a stiffarm and cutting sharply back towards the hashmarks, coasting into the end zone for a 42-yard score that made it 28-6.
"We've got stuff we've got to work on, but I'm very proud of our kids' effort," Cormier said. "I think I'm going to be very proud of their execution once we look at it on film, and I was very pleased that they were very physical, they flew to the football. I thought we had a lot of guys that got in the game. We were able to use our depth a little bit.
"I think our offensive line is starting to come along, and I give a lot of credit to Dana Giampa for that, really working with those kids. They trust in what he's teaching."
Nullifying Knowles: One of the keys when devising a game plan against SPM is finding a way to neutralize senior defensive end Jordan Knowles, considered one of the region's better pass rushers. Through the first two games he registered 18 tackles and two sacks, but tonight the Rockets did a terrific job keeping him out of the play.
When the Rockets weren't running away from him, they were flushing him away from the point of attack with double teams and chips. When he ripped across Greelish's face and charged the 6-foot-4, 305-pound sophomore's inside gap, the play usually ended up bouncing to the outside, just out of his grasp.
"He's a real good player -- especially if you run away from him, he can run you down from the backside," Cormier said of Knowles. "We were really aware of him on the pass rush, trying to get outside him. We didn't think we'd be able to do that, we we tried to get up inside him, maybe trap him a little bit. But he made his plays. You know he's gonna make his plays, it's just, can you let him make those plays where it doesn't kill you, it only hurts you?"
Stout front seven: Defensively, the Rockets brought the heat tonight. Steve St. Jean and Diaz brought pressure off the edges, while Lincoln Bois found his way in the backfield on blitzes; meanwhile, Flink was efficient supporting both the run and pass.
The key, much like the run game, might have been the continuous rotation of fresh bodies.
"I thought we did a nice job of rolling guys through," Cormier said. "We had some fresh legs in there. I bet you we had up to 10, 12 kids get in there on the defensive line. We were always fresh, so you had guys getting limited reps but giving 100 percent at it. Sooner or later, if you can stay close, I think that wears on people. And I give [defensive line coach Scott Mills] a lot of credit for utilizing the depth that he has there."
Flash of promise? For all the troubles the Guardians ran into, they still managed to pull off one of the plays of the game. Late in the third quarter, sophomore wideout Noah Burke found himself in a one-on-one matchup with Taylor and took him deep down the right sideline on a chair route; quarterback Steve Flynn hit him with a laser, and Burke extended for a one-handed grab, scathing into the end zone untouched for a 69-yard score.
Flynn had his troubles tonight, with two interceptions. But at 6-foot-5, nearly 240 pounds, and equipped on the mound with a fastball that clocks in the mid-80's, he shows plenty of potential and isn't afraid to air it out.
Of Burke's catch, Henrickson said with a chuckle, "He's a great athlete. That was a hell of grab, he makes those in practice. I'm just glad...if he coulda caught it with two, thank God he didn't miss it with one because I would have reamed him."
Trickery peeks its head: The 'Wildcat' fad may have run its course at the pro level, but at Auburn it's still alive. Twice in the first half the Rockets lined up in an unbalanced shotgun formation with two tight ends and two split ends, with Taylor taking a direct snap. Taylor had a potential touchdown pass batted away in the back of the end zone; the other time they lined up, he rolled to the left and changed direction twice before coming up with a 25-yard gain.
AUBURN 35, ST. PETER-MARIAN 6
SPM (2-1) --- 0 0 6 0 - 6
AUB (3-0) --- 13 8 7 7 - 35
A - Drew Goodrich 4 run (Steve St. Jean kick) 8:43
A - Dan Flink 6 run (rush failed) 5:29
A - Bobby Sirvet 4 run (Flink run) 6:43
S - Noah Burke 69 pass from Steve Flynn (pass failed) 3:28
A - Flink 42 run (St. Jean kick) :21.7
A - Servit 15 run (St. Jean kick) 5:15