Atkinson, Lee help Auburn hold off Kentlake, 28-24
Harold Lee rushed for 171 yards and touchdowns of 49 and 52 yards, but the Trojans had to overcome a 24-21 deficit to beat the Falcons.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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In a game decided by less than a touchdown, big plays snap together like links in a chain. But if you pull those plays apart and break them down individually, even some big plays are just a little bigger than others.
On third-and-6 midway through the fourth quarter, Auburn quarterback Brier Atkinson rolled out and found himself face-to-face with a Kentlake defender. Atkinson, who squirmed away from tackles all night, played Houdini once more and wiggled free for nine yards and a first down.
That allowed Auburn running back Harold Lee to eventually score the deciding touchdown — his third of the game — on an 8-yard run, giving Auburn a 28-24 win against Kentlake on Thursday.
"I had to get a play out of it," Atkinson said. "It was third down, and I had to get something. I didn't really panic, tucked it and got as much as I possibly could."
A week after scoring five touchdowns in four different ways, Lee rushed for 171 yards and touchdowns of 49 and 52 yards. Yet he and his teammates had to play catch up from the start.
After Kentlake (3-2) took an 14-0 lead on two Riley Higgins' touchdown runs, Auburn (4-1) stormed back and took its first lead in the second half.
TJ Muao had the first touchdown when he took the ball 33 yards for a score. Lee tacked on the second with a 49-yard burst that put Auburn in front 21-17. Lee had already scored on a 52-yard dash in the first half.
"Harold Lee does Harold Lee," Atkinson said. "Every time the ball is in his hands, he's either scoring or doing something good for us."
Auburn went 4-6 last year and missed the playoffs for the first time in about a decade, Auburn coach Gordon Elliott said. All of those losses came by 13 points or less, and Elliott said the Trojans needed the playmaking ability of Lee, who missed much of the 2011 season with an injury.
"When things are tough like they were tonight," Elliott said, "you have to have somebody step up and make big plays. And Harold's been that guy."
The Auburn defense held tough, too. The Falcons gashed Auburn in the first half behind Steffin Church and Higgins. But Kentlake never got going after halftime and scored only seven points.
"After the first half, we knew we had to step it up," Atkinson said of his defense. "That wasn't how we're supposed to play. They weren't playing Trojan football in the first half so they stepped it up."
Higgins scored his third touchdown for Kentlake on an 18-yard run in the third quarter to give the Falcons a 24-21 lead. But Atkinson and Lee led Auburn one more time for the game-winning score.
Kentlake kicker Gunner Terrio made a 33-yard field goal in the first half.
"They were our league champs last year," Elliott said. "So on our home field, we have to be able to beat that kind of team if few want to be a playoff team."
The win also gave Elliott family bragging rights. Kentlake coach Chris Paulson is his son-in-law and knocked off Auburn and Elliott a year ago.