HOLLISTON, Mass. -- Friday night’s battle of Top 25s Auburn and Holliston could have been viewed more by what didn’t happen rather than what filled up the box score.
A fumble that cost a potential touchdown, a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown whistled back by a penalty and a possible fumble on the final play of the game helped to shape No. 10 Auburn’s 14-13 escape from Holliston High.
But games are played in reality, not in the subjunctive and the Rockets did just enough to extend their winning streak to 39 games, the third longest active streak in the nation.
Even though the Rockets still don’t talk about it.
“We look at it as two in a row now,” Auburn running back Dan Flink said after the Rockets ran their record to 2-0.
Flink terrorized the Panthers’ defense to the tune of 156 yards on 28 carries while accounting for both of Auburn’s scores, with touchdown runs of 16 and 30 yards. Running behind an offensive line that averages over 250 pounds, anchored by junior guard Aaron Dyke, the Rockets were able to set the tone and pace of the game.
“As athletic and spread out and dangerous as their skilled kids are, as good as they are, we were hoping we’d be able to grind the ball a little bit, chew the clock up and limit their possessions,” Auburn head coach Jeff Cormier said. “But, again, their defense in the second half gave us more three-and-outs than we wanted.”
As much as Auburn dictated the complexion of the game, the weren’t able to stop Holliston (1-1) from jumping out to a 7-0 lead on a 7-yard touchdown run by quarterback Dan Barone (18 carries, 90 yards) with 1:16 to play in the first.
However, the Rockets responded with an 11-play, 67-yard drive to tie the score.
On the ensuing possession, the Panthers marched down the field again with Barone reaching the end zone on a 2-yard keeper up the middle, but the point after try was blocked by Auburn’s Mykal Diaz and Mike Lavin.
Flink scored again before the half was out from 30 yards out to give the Rockets their final margin of victory.
“We wanted to have long drives and we knew that we wanted to be physical with them and we knew that their offense was very explosive,” Flink said. “We did it, we executed well.”
The Holliston defense tightened up in the second half, forcing the Rockets to turn over the ball on downs in their first possession. But the Panthers’ promising drive following the defensive stop fizzled after a fumble.
Holliston was dealt another blow on what would have been a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown by Barone. The play was called back after a block in the back penalty. The resulting Panther drive ended with a punt.
As time began to click away, Auburn tried to run out the clock.
Although there was one final moment of intrigue on the Rockets’ final play from scrimmage, a rush by Fred Taylor. Taylor was met by the Panther line and, after a scrum developed, a Holliston player emerged with the football. However, officials had blown the play dead before the strip occurred.
“It was just wasn’t meant to be,” Holliston head coach Todd Kiley said.
And a few more thoughts:
-Cormier was pleased by his team’s ability to answer both of Holliston’s early scores. It was clear from the beginning the Rockets intended to play a ball-control game and letting the Panthers’ offense out of its cage would have spelled an end to that.
-That being said, Cormier stressed that there’s room for improvement. He cited the Rockets’ inability to put together a sustained drive (like the two Odysseyian drives of the first half) to end the game as a sore spot. But there were other bright spots. “I thought our special teams were good,” Cormier said. “That was the difference in the ball game, blocking the PAT.”
-From Holliston’s perspective, it’s tough to tell if this was a glass half-full or half-empty type of game. Kiley was encouraged by his team’s performance in a ‘playoff-like atmosphere,’ but being so close to ending the Rockets’ prolific streak, which now stands just 13 games shy of Acton-Boxborough’s state record, has to sting. Kiley was democratic when asked postgame about the flag which called back Barone’s return, but added it looked like a block in the side from his perspective. “We’ll look at the flim and we’ll learn from this,” Kiley said.