The last time Auburn’s football team got off to a 3-0 start was in 2006, when the Bulldogs went 13-0 and won the Class C-1 state championship.
That’s also the last time Auburn has won more than four games in a season. The Bulldogs have already matched last year’s win total with victories over Douglas County West (21-7), Southern (51-6) and Omaha Concordia (29-14).
Victory No. 4, however, will be a tall order Friday night, playing at No. 7 Fairbury, which is also 3-0.
“These guys want to bring Auburn football back to where it was in the ’90s and early 2000s,” Auburn coach Tony Janssen said, referring to the Bulldogs’ 14 playoff appearances between 1992 and 2008. Auburn reached the semifinals in 2002.
“They really brought great energy and effort into the summer conditioning program, and we’re seeing that pay off,” Janssen said. “Even in those dog days of July, they were here and having a good time. If they weren’t enjoying it, they fooled me.”
Auburn is one of the most experienced C-1 teams in the state, with nine starters back from last year both offensively and defensively. The Bulldogs use an option attack featuring a pair of juniors — quarterback Drew Dixon and running back Baily Darnell — behind an offensive line led by sophomore Colton Chapin (6 feet, 265 pounds) and senior Robert Liles (6-4, 295).
Darnell has rushed for 461 yards and seven touchdowns, while Dixon has 246 yards and four scores. Senior running back Cade Heywood provides depth at the position and has 186 yards through three games.
“This is the first year we’ve run the option out of the pistol formation, and it’s been a good change for us,” Janssen said. “It gives Drew more time to make reads and puts us in a position to get things going downhill.”
Defensively, the Bulldogs have been led by senior linebackers Taten Minton (6-3, 200, 31 total tackles) and Michael Lombardi (6-3, 215, 30 total tackles). Junior defensive end Branden Lavigne (6-2, 170) has five tackles behind the line of scrimmage to top that category.
Friend looking for revenge: Friend’s only regular-season loss a year ago came to Lawrence-Nelson, a 64-18 shellacking. The 2-0 Bulldogs, ranked No. 8 in Class D-2 (eight-man) will get another shot Friday when they travel to No. 6 Lawrence-Nelson, which is also 2-0.
“The kids are prepared for this game in that regard,” said Friend coach Jim Pfeiffer, whose team opened with wins over Pawnee City (54-20) and Sterling (50-0). “They’re still a really tough matchup for us because they have good skilled kids and they’re very physical.”
After senior Kolby Houlden went off for 236 yards and three TDs in the opener against Pawnee City, the rushing statistics were more balanced in the shutout over Sterling. Houlden had 81 yards on seven carries and junior Edwen Baptista gained 78 yards on 12 attempts.
“Against the good teams we need to be more balanced,” Pfeiffer said.
Friend was bounced out of the 2016 playoffs 75-0 in the first round by eventual state champion Falls City Sacred Heart. That loss stung the returning players the entire offseason.
“That score was on the marker board in the weight room all summer, in fact it might still be there,” Pfeiffer said. “The kids didn’t like the way last year ended, and they don’t want to be a one-and-done team this season.”
Schlager back: McCook Super-State senior quarterback/linebacker Zach Schlager is expected to play Friday against Alliance after injuring his hip in the first half of a season-opening win over Aurora and sitting out the past two games.
Bison coach Jeff Gross said Schlager, a Colorado State linebacker recruit, was released to play last Thursday but “we held him out because of lack of practice time and to be safe for one more week.”
Sophomore quarterback Cameryn Berry has stepped into Schlager’s place and guided the 3-0 Bison to wins over Gering (45-9) and Sidney (28-7) the past two weeks. Berry has passed for 189 yards and rushed for 111 more during that span.
Tough out-of-state games: In the day-and-age of the NSAA putting together football schedules statewide, out-of-state games are a rarity. But Class C-1 No. 3 Kearney Catholic and C-2 No. 7 Valentine will be representing the state in a pair of matchups against rated teams from Kansas and South Dakota and hoping to avenge their only regular-season loss from a year ago as well.
Valentine (2-1) will be playing Friday night at Winner (2-1), which is ranked No. 4 in Class B in South Dakota. Winner shut out Valentine 48-0 last season, the Badgers’ only blemish on their 8-1 regular-season mark.
On Saturday, the Stars (3-0) will be hosting a Garden Plain, Kansas, squad that’s 2-0 and No. 6 in Kansas 3A, according to the Kansas Prep Football poll of sports media from around the state. Kearney Catholic, 8-1 in the regular season in 2016, lost 29-20 at Garden Plain a year ago.