AUBURN, Ala. -- All Central needed was 1 yard.
Trailing 23-17 with just over five minutes to go, the Red Devils had to pick up 1 yard to knock off No. 7 Auburn. But the Tigers stepped up when they needed to, stuffing Red Devil running back Kenneth Thomas and dropping him for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. It ended Central's last scoring threat and helped the Tigers hold on for a 23-17 victory Friday night at Duck Samford Stadium.
Central (3-4, 2-3 Class 6A Region 3) got the ball back one more time following its drive that ended at one, taking over with 2:47 to go, the Red Devils at their own 47-yard line. Two plays later, it was over, as Central quarterback Zion Webb had a miscommunication with his receiver, throwing the ball into the waiting arms of Auburn cornerback Blaise Taylor. All the Tigers (6-1, 4-1) had to do after that was pick up one first down to run out the clock and escape with the victory at home.
Central's defense played as well as it could in the second half, keeping the hosts from scoring a single point and blocking a field goal on the Tigers only incursion past midfield in the final 24 minutes.
In fact, the Red Devils had the only score of the second half, as Webb dumped it off to Thomas for a score on a 23-yard screen pass, which cut Auburn's lead to 23-17 after Cameron Herring's extra point with 4:31 to play in the third quarter.
Though Central walked away in defeat, the game started as well as it could have hoped. The Red Devil defense came up big on Auburn's first possession. Instead of punting from the Red Devils' 36-yard line on fourth-and-eight, the Tigers decided to put the ball in the air. Quarterback Bradley Northcutt's pass was bobbled by his receiver, who couldn't hold on to the ball.
The Red Devils took over at the 7:04 mark of the first quarter and went on a time-consuming possession, going on a 13-play scoring drive that ended with a 22-yard field goal from kicker Cameron Herring. The junior's kick gave Central a 3-0 lead.
But the Red Devils knew they didn't walk away with everything they could have on that drive. Facing a third-and-goal from the 5-yard line, the Red Devils were called for a delay of game penalty that pushed them back 10 yards. On the next play, Zion Webb's pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage, forcing the Red Devils to settle for a field goal.
After getting great field position that helped them set up shop at their own 42-yard line, the Tigers took only four plays to get on the board. On third-and-one from Central's 49, Jacob Hardy streaked up the right sideline and appeared on his way to an easy touchdown. He got his score, but not before a Central defender ran him down inside the 5-yard line, making Hardy extend the ball across the goal line for the touchdown as time expired in the opening period. After Sage Ledbetter's extra-point attempt was true, Auburn took its first lead at 7-3.
Auburn gave itself some breathing room just before halftime, though, scoring its final points of the night with just 1:04 left in the second quarter. Rashaan Evans -- normally a receiver -- took the snap from the 1-yard line and went over the top of the Red Devils' defense to push Auburn's lead back to 23-10 going into the locker room.
Friday at Duck Samford Stadium
C- Cameron Herring 22 kick, 1:47
A- Jacob Hardy 49 run (Sage Ledbetter kick), 0:00
A- Blaise Taylor 66 punt return (Ledbetter kick), 10:22
A- Safety, 10:10
C- Traveon Samuel 2 run (Herring kick), 6:33
A- Rashaan Evans 1 run (Ledbetter kick), 1:04
C- Kenneth Thomas 23 pass from Zion Webb (Herring kick), 4:31
Records: Central 3-4, 2-3 Class 6A Region 3, Auburn 6-1, 4-1. Next: Central, Thursday at Sidney Lanier, 8 p.m.