When Auburn High running back Aaron Diggs went out for a screen pass late in the second quarter of Friday’s first-round playoff game, it didn’t take him long to realize his offensive linemen had given him plenty of space to work with. After making the catch, the senior running back did what he routinely does best — outrun every defender in sight to the end zone.
Diggs caught the pass from Auburn quarterback Patrick McGlon close to midfield then raced his way past the Murphy Panthers down the right side of the field en route to a 42-yard touchdown reception. The catch was just one moment from a big night by Diggs, who had 222 rushing yards and three touchdowns and 62 receiving yards and another score to help the Tigers tame the Panthers in a 33-0 victory.
The win stands as Auburn’s third shutout of 2019 and propels the Tigers to the second round of the Class 7A state playoffs, setting up a road game at McGill-Toolen next Friday.
“I slowly came out and turned around, and the offensive line had me all cleared out. I just took advantage and ran it as fast as I could,” Diggs said. “I give all the credit to our offense. The wide receivers and o-line, they executed in every aspect and blocked great. I just had to take advantage the best I could with what they gave me.”
Auburn (8-3, 4-2) made it evident from the team’s first possession that Diggs would be their bell cow at running back once again.
Diggs got carry after carry after the Tigers ended Murphy’s opening drive with a three-and-out, touching the ball nine times on Auburn’s first 11 plays of offense. Diggs made the last of those 11 stand out, as he pushed forward on a two-yard touchdown run to give Auburn a 7-0 lead with 5:27 left in the first quarter.
The Tigers’ defense held Murphy (6-5, 4-3) in check as the offense sought out more points. McGlon helped the team double its lead by waiting patiently for a screen to develop for fullback Paxton Gordon, who caught the ball then bolted downfield toward the corner of the end zone for a 35-yard score.
Gordon’s touchdown gave the Tigers a 13-0 lead with 8:02 to go in the first half.
“First, I was kind of like, ‘Don’t drop it. Don’t drop it. Don’t drop it.’ Then I caught the ball,” Gordon said. “Last week on a screen I kind of made a wrong read. They said to go wide, and I went wide. There was nothing but green.
“I ran as fast as my little legs would carry me. I don’t think I’ve ran that fast since like ninth grade.”
After the Auburn defense forced the third of what was five attempted punts by the Panthers, Diggs got going once again. Diggs picked up 18 yards on four quick carries then bailed Auburn out after a sack and an illegal-shift penalty, taking McGlon’s screen pass the distance to give the Tigers a 19-0 lead with 2:11 to go before the break.
Diggs’ stellar play was no surprise to Auburn head coach Adam Winegarden, but that didn’t mean Winegarden didn’t appreciate the screen that Diggs quickly converted into six points.
“When he caught that screen and scored, the first thing I said on the headset was, ‘That kid is special,’” Winegarden said.
After halftime, the remaining minutes of action were mostly about holding the Panthers in check and making them pay for mistakes.
Following a poor snap on a Murphy punt coupled with a penalty on the Panthers, Auburn took over on the Murphy 12-yard line and wasted little time returning to the end zone. Diggs took two plays to add his third score of the night, pushing forward on a one-yard touchdown run that made it a 26-0 contest with 8:18 to go in the fourth.
Diggs put a proper end to his night on the next Auburn possession, scoring on a six-yard run with 3:54 left on the clock.
Diggs’ impressive outing was matched by a strong defensive effort from the Tigers. Auburn only allowed 99 yards of offense in the win, and the Tigers had two interceptions courtesy Quay Nelms and Omari Porter.
“If you don’t score you can’t win, so I’m really proud of our defense,” Winegarden said. “We felt like before the game we could get the shutout tonight, and they did that.”
Winegarden and the Tigers now turn their attentions to McGill-Toolen, a team that has consistently been one of the best in Class 7A. Winegarden said the preparation for facing the Yellow Jackets will start on Sunday, and you can count his top player on offense among those ready to get back to work.
“We have to have the same preparation next week as we did this week,” Diggs said. “We just need to work diligently through the week and continue to do what we’re doing.”
Auburn 33, Murphy 0
MUR — 0 0 0 0 — 0
AUB — 7 12 0 14 — 33
AUB — Aaron Diggs 2-yard run (XP good), 5:27
AUB — Paxton Gordon 35-yard reception from Patrick McGlon (XP no good), 8:02
AUB — Diggs 42-yard reception from McGlon (XP no good), 2:11
AUB — Diggs 1-yard run (XP good), 8:18
AUB — Diggs 6-yard run (XP good), 3:50