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FOOTBALL: Jefferson stops Auburn on final play, win 8-7; Battle for first place looms
It has been a year of firsts for the Thomas Jefferson football program.
Last week, the Raiders beat perennial powerhouse Kentwood for the first time ever. Jefferson backed up that win by squeaking by another South Puget Sound League monster, the Auburn Trojans, Friday night at Auburn Memorial Stadium, 8-7.
The win was the Raiders’ first over the Trojans since 1994 and improved TJ to 2-1 in the South Puget Sound League North Division, one game back of unbeaten Kentlake (3-0). Auburn had won two of the last three SPSL North championships.
“Words can’t describe it,” said TJ senior quarterback K.W. Williams. “Honestly, coming out here, we were a little intimidated because they’ve been a powerhouse for I don’t know how many years. They’re a great team, we’re just happy to get out of here with a win.”
Williams and the rest of the Raiders hope their year of firsts culminates with the program rolling into the postseason for the first time in school history.
But Friday night, the Raiders needed every inch of the turf at Auburn Memorial Stadium to snag the season-defining victory over the Trojans.
After slugging it out for four quarters and trailing 8-7, Auburn (2-1) found themselves at the Raiders’ 4-yard line with just seconds remaining on the clock.
“The decision was should we go for a field goal or run it in,” Auburn coach Gordon Elliott said. “And our field goal kicking is an adventure at best, so I decided I’d rather put it in the hands of our offense. It’s a do-or-die situation, and I thought we had better odds of doing that at that point, rather than going with our kicking game.”
With no time outs and the clock running down, the Trojans put it in the hands of junior running back Darnell Hagans, who fought his way through the Jefferson defense before being stopped just an inch shy of the end zone.
“I thought we could get it in, and it looked like we did,” Elliott said. “But I guess we didn’t.”
As usual, the Raiders were led by Williams. The senior finished with a game-high 166 yards rushing on 28 carries. Williams also threw for TJ’s lone touchdown, finding senior Gunner Sonnenfeld from 2 yards out with 6:41 left in the fourth quarter to cut the Auburn lead to 7-6.
The Trojans tallied their lone score on a 7-yard run by Lincoln Burt late in the third quarter. Ryley Dozier’s PAT late in the third quarter made it 7-0.
But the Raiders and head coach Dean Peck didn’t hesitate in their decision to go for the 2-point conversion and the lead after the Sonnenfeld touchdown.
There was also no hesitation in who would have the ball in their hands. Williams took the shotgun snap and rolled around the Auburn defense into the corner of the endzone for the conversion and the 8-7 lead.
Hagans keyed the Trojans’ final drive of the game, which began at the Raiders’ 42-yard line with just 1 minute, 42-seconds left in the game.
The first half was back-and-forth, despite being scoreless. Auburn took the opening kickoff and marched 87 yards to the Jefferson 5-yard line. But Williams tackled the Trojans’ Chandler Link for a 4-yard loosen third down and Auburn missed the 26-yard field-goal attempt.
Jefferson had a long Williams touchdown run called back because of a holding penalty later in the first half and also had a 43-yard field goal blocked by Auburn.
The Trojans struggled without the services of senior lineman Cory English, a Pac-12 recruit, who suffered a minor knee injury against Mount Rainier last week.
“He could have helped us out there,” Elliott said of the final play. “They’re (Jefferson) pretty physical up front and not having our most physical lineman playing hurt, on both sides of the ball.”
Things don’t get any easier for the Raiders. Jefferson will battle the unbeaten Kentlake Falcons at 7 p.m. Friday night at Federal Way Memorial Stadium. A victory would mean the Raiders would sit atop the SPSL North Division halfway through the season.
The seventh-ranked Falcons have beat Auburn Riverside (49-7), Kentridge (30-22) and Mount Rainier (55-0) in their first three games of the season.