FOOTBALL: Tops tumble at Auburn

Danny Schoenbaechler

AUBURN, Ala. – Western’s 13-game winning streak ended Saturday, despite the fact that it was never really a game.

Auburn scored easily and often, as the Tigers bullied the Hilltoppers 48-3 before 85,046 fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Auburn’s offense cruised to a 21-0 first quarter lead. By the time halftime rolled around, it was 38-0, and No. 3 Western had managed just 11 yards and no first downs.

“I felt like when they scored we were going to come right back,” sophomore running back Lerron Moore said. He quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen.

“You see them on film and they look fast,” Moore said. “But you get on the field and they’re faster.”

After winning their first three games by a combined 154-9, the Hilltoppers (3-0) were confident they could compete with the I-A Tigers.

They didn’t.

Once reality hit, it didn’t take long for the Western defense to allow its first touchdown and surpass the 47 rushing yards allowed through three games.

The Tigers (2-2) scored in nine plays on their first drive, with quarterback Jason Campbell connecting on all four passes for 29 yards and running back Ronnie Brown rushing for 45 yards on four carries. Tre Smith capped the drive with a 1-yard plunge into the endzone.

“The bottom line is (Auburn) is bigger, they’re faster and they’re stronger,” coach David Elson said. “They’re even faster than we thought they were.”

Campbell didn’t play in the second half but was still 12-13 for 173 yards and a touchdown. The game’s leading rusher was the Tigers’ fourth string running back Brandon Jacobs, who rumbled to 106 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.

“We were concerned about these guys,” Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. “They are not big, but they are really quick.

When halftime finally arrived, Elson attempted to rally his squad and turn things around in the second half.

It worked.

Western gained 152 yards in the second half, and Matt Lange hit a 24-yard field goal with 14:12 left in the game to get the Toppers on the board.

The Toppers were only outscored 10-3 in the second half.

“I liked our attitude and how we responded to adversity,” Elson said.

Along with the end of the 13-game winning streak was the end of the Toppers’ streak of 100-yard rushing games. It was the first time in 14 years and 151 games that Western didn’t manage to gain 100 yards on the ground.

Freshman quarterback Justin Haddix admitted that the ability difference wasn’t a huge surprise.

“I don’t know if it was a surprise, but we just didn’t bounce back,” Haddix said.

After giving up touchdowns on the Tigers first three possessions, the Topper defense improved but still spent too much time on the field.

“On third down we wanted to get off the field and we didn’t accomplish that,” senior inside linebacker Erik Dandy said.

Dandy spent the second half playing without his regular linebacking mate, junior Charles Thompson.

Thompson suffered a strained knee ligament and was held out of the second half for precautionary reasons, Elson said.

Senior Karl Maslowski moved from outside linebacker to cover Thompson’s position.

Elson said he was looking forward to moving on to concentrating on this Saturday’s game at Western Illinois.

“We’re going to move forward and put this thing to bed ASAP,” Elson said.

Reach Danny Schoenbaechler at [email protected]