By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
The Rockford Auburn Knights took the field at Swanson Stadium Friday, Oct. 12, with a chance to be eligible for only their second playoff berth in school history.
Across the field was a feisty Rockford East team that, despite their record, boasted one of the top offenses in the NIC-10 featuring the record-setting duo of quarterback Jacob Benson and receiver Austin Young.
Just as East was looking to take a lead early in the second quarter, the Knights intercepted their first of four Benson passes, coupled with two additional East fumbles, helping Auburn cruise to a 49-12 victory, making them playoff eligible at 5-3.
“Our kids are quick, and they are starting to understand gap integrity,” Auburn Head Coach Dan Appino said. “If they’re in the right spot, they are pretty athletic and can make plays.”
And the defense made several plays on the night. Phil Trammell returned an interception 85 yards for a touchdown, Keiven Russey returned another 63 yards for a touchdown, and Corey Jefferson took one 60 yards to set up another touchdown.
“We came out here and did what we had to do,” Jefferson said. “We played hard, we got past some penalties, kept our heads straight and focused.”
It was all part of a “bend but don’t break” approach to defense that is serving the Knights extremely well right now.
For the third straight week, and the third straight win, Auburn was outgained by their opponents. But an opportunistic defense was able to create turnovers in key moments to thwart any momentum East (1-7) was trying to build.
Appino admitted his team was willing to concede some plays, which helped E-Rabs running backs run for 83 yards and a touchdown. But the defense stayed disciplined and was able to capitalize on East mistakes.
“There’s some dangerous weapons on that East team,” he said. “We decided we wanted to make them beat us running the ball, as opposed to throwing it to Young.”
While Auburn was excited after the win, the coaching staff was quick to point out they did not want this to be the high point of their season. And the team certainly has an eye toward Boylan Friday, Oct. 19, where Appino won two state titles.
“I think Boylan themselves will refocus everybody because they are the king,” Appino said. “They are the standard in the area, and that should keep us focused.”
For seniors like Jefferson, it is the start of what they hope is a nice run in the playoffs. It is a group of players who entered the season having never seen the Knights win a varsity game, but now they are trying to focus on being more than just happy to be in the playoffs.
“It means a lot for the coaches to come help us out and we thank them,” Jefferson said. “We have to keep working, keep getting better and moving up.”
For Appino, he is focusing on improving the team before the playoffs. But he said it is pretty amazing to see what his team has been able to accomplish in his short time there.
“We’ve got a special group of seniors, and we’ve made our money with those guys,” he said. “I hope it gives everyone a glimmer of what they can accomplish if we get a full year working. We can do nothing but build. In the playoffs, I hope that creates a whole new level of excitement for the school.”
Around the NIC-10:
• Garett Perry ran for 233 yards and five touchdowns, reasserting himself in the race for the NIC-10 rushing crown and leading Rockford Jefferson (1-7) to their first victory of the season, 43-26 over Belvidere North (2-6). Justin Powers led the Blue Thunder with 154 yards and two touchdowns.
• Machesney Park Harlem (6-2) took advantage of turnovers by Rockford Guilford (3-5) and a big day from Kevin Witcik to gain full playoff eligibility in a 41-6 victory over the Vikings. This will be the second straight year Guilford will miss the playoffs after having the longest playoff streak in the conference before last season.
• Alex Martin only scored three touchdowns for Rockton Hononegah (7-1) this week after getting four each the previous two weeks. But Marrick Protz and Jake Wilson became the first players to score besides Martin for the Indians in three weeks as they ran past Freeport (3-5) by a final of 50-12. The Pretzels have lost five straight after starting off 3-0.
• The conference MVP is almost wrapped up, as Rockford Boylan’s DeMarcus Vines ran for four touchdowns and more than 200 yards as the Titans (8-0) crushed Belvidere 57-0. Boylan will look to continue their conference winning streak as they face their former coach, Appino, and Auburn. Belvidere (4-4) will have to beat their rival, Belvidere North, in the final game to gain playoff eligibility.
From the Oct. 17-23, 2012, issue