Coaches often talk of “rapid change” in football.
It’s a big play here or there, an interception for a touchdown or a big punt return that can quickly change the fortunes of a game. Central had plenty of those in its 42-14 win over Auburn on Friday night at Garrett-Harrison Stadium.
A punt block on the opening drive of the game that set up a touchdown a couple plays later; two interceptions returned for touchdowns; a fumble recovery.
But it was a slow, methodical drive in the fourth quarter that cemented a win when the outcome was still up in the air.
Auburn had clawed to within 28-14 in the third quarter and had just driven near midfield with a chance to cut further into Central’s lead. After Central forced a punt, however, it took over at its own 12 with just over nine minutes remaining in the game.
The Red Devils running game had been serviceable, but not spectacular throughout the first four quarters, grinding out smaller pieces of yardage and failing to get a real big push up front. Running back Jaxton Carson had reached the end zone twice on short carries and did rush for 58 yards in the first half, but 34 of those yards had come on one play. The other 24 came on 10 carries.
But Central proceeded to put together an 11-play, 88-yard drive that chewed over five minutes off the clock to go up 35-14 and essentially put the game out of reach. Seven of those carries went to Carson, who looked stronger than he had all game.
He got 9 yards on the first carry, then 6, 3, 5 and 15 to put the Red Devils at midfield. More impressive than the yardage totals was the way he was picking up the yards, churning his legs and getting extra distance after contact and forcing the pile across the first-down marker.
He ended the drive with a 36-yard touchdown run, breaking one tackle and juking two other defenders on his way to a score.
Central coach Jamey DuBose said that was the type of offense he had been waiting to see.
“We won the way I like winning,” he said. “Physical football. We went back a little to old-school philosophy. Our motto was ‘come off your feet and drive.’ A couple of times a hole wasn’t there, but they kept moving their feet and got some physical yards.”
Carson said he felt better near the end than he did all game.
“I felt like I wasn’t getting a good push in the first half,” he said. “I think I hit the holes better and was more physical in the second.”
The Red Devils ground out 197 yards rushing in the game and allowed just 210 on defense. It’s the type of combination that DuBose thinks could help them get over the top this season.
Final score: Central 42, Auburn 14
Key play: Early in the second half with Central leading 21-7, Auburn had a chance to drive and get back into the game. Instead, Central defensive back Damon Jones intercepted Auburn quarterback Brooks Fuller’s pass, spun away from a tackle and took off down the sidelines. He followed his blocks and ran into the end zone for a 25-yard score that put the Red Devils ahead 28-7.
Damon Jones, Central, defensive back, had two takeaways on defense for the Red Devils, securing a fumble recovery in the first half and returning an interception for a touchdown in the second.
Jamaar Spivey, Central, running back/special teams, blocked an Auburn punt on its opening drive of the game, allowing Central to recover deep within Tigers territory. The Red Devils scored shortly thereafter to get a fast start against a region opponent.
Individual stats: Jaxton Carson, Central, running back, carried 21 times for 136 yards and three touchdowns to pace the Red Devils offense; Zion Webb, Central, quarterback, tossed a touchdown and also had 30 yards rushing for Central; Markail Benton, Central, linebacker, had an interception returned for a touchdown.
Coach quote: “We’re 3-0 against Auburn since I’ve been here,” Central coach Jamey DuBose said. “Our program is doing a great job against a top region opponent. Anytime you can do that, you feel pretty good.”
Player quote: “I just played the technique, turned around and followed my blockers,” defensive back Damon Jones said of his pick-six. “Everyone was coming at me, and I saw Markail take on the block, so I went outside.”
Central 42, Auburn 14
Friday at Garrett-Harrison Stadium
C — Jaxton Carson 3 run (Alvin Renteria kick); 9:08
A — Rawlins Cleveland 4 pass from Brooks Fuller (Avery Atkins kick); 5:34
C — Carson 1 run (Renteria kick); 10:34
C — Devin Pittman 22 pass from Zion Webb (Renteria kick); :28
C — Damon Jones 25 interception return (Renteria kick); 7:53
A — Jamarcus Knight 28 pass from Fuller (Atkins kick); 4:11
C — Carson 36 run (Renteria kick); 3:56
C — Markail Benton 35 interception return (Renteria kick); 2:22
Records: Auburn 1-2, 0-1; Central, 2-1, 1-0. Next: Auburn, Friday vs. Prattville; Central, Sept. 16 at Smiths Station.