The first Top Cop game lived up to every bit of the hype. School officials say about 5,000 people packed Memorial Field at AHS for the game, which also served as a tribute to Officer Ronald Tarentino, Jr. Officer Tarentino was an Auburn Police Officer, and had previously worked for the Leicester PD. He also lived in Leicester with his wife and children.
Drury Square was packed for the game. Police had blocked a section of Rt. 12 in front of the high school, and fans took shuttles and walked from every direction over to the field. The Auburn Mall, the library, the Shaw’s Plaza, and about every other parking area in the vicinity was filled to capacity. The atmosphere Thursday night was reminiscent of something out of Friday Night Lights.
During the pregame ceremonies honoring Officer Tarentino, The Tarentino family was paid a surprise visit from Pfc. Ron Tarentino III. He had come home from his base at Fort Bragg, NC to serve as Leicester High’s honorary captain for the game. Tarentino dressed in a Leicester football uniform, and jogged out onto the field to wild applause and the shocked expressions of his friends and family.
Leicester came into the game as the home team, after agreeing to play the game at Auburn High School. While you may think that would give Auburn an advantage, there were more than enough Leicester fans on hand to cheer on their team, as well.
The Wolverines jumped out to a 10 point halftime lead, and for while it felt that the pregame ceremonies were going to be the highlight of the evening. That all changed in the third quarter.
Auburn struck quickly on a Jack Laperle interception run back for a touchdown to make the score 10-7 and to get themselves some momentum. It did not last long, however. The Wolverines struck back with a big play of their own, a 92 yard completion to make it 16-7,
Then began the fourth quarter where Auburn would put up 23 points, and one of the wildest finishes you’ll see. Halfway through the fourth, Auburn QB Steve Saucier hit Luke Matthews for a TD pass, and Jadon Latino converted the extra point to make it 16-14 Leicester.
After a defensive stop, Auburn drove again, and Saucier ran the ball in from about 15 yards out to give Auburn the lead. The two point conversion pushed the Auburn lead to 22-16 with just over 3 minutes left in the game. Momentum had certainly swung in the Rocket’s favor, and it looked like this would end in a ‘W’ for the “visiting home team”
Leicester, of course, had other plans. With just over a minute on the clock, the Wolverines tied the game on a spectacular pass from Leicester’s QB Nathan Powers to Matt Morrow in the back corner of the end zone. The first point after attempt missed wide right, but a penalty gave Leicester a second chance, which they nailed to take a 23-22 lead.
Auburn’s Saucier managed to move the ball downfield quickly. He hit a couple of clutch passes to receiver Zukudo Igwenagu going out of bounds to stop the clock. The highlight was a 17 yard pass from Saucier that Igwenagu hauled in under pressure, managed to keep his feet in bounds, and stepped out at the 2 to stop the clock and set the Rockets up for another score.
Saucier did just that, scoring on a QB keeper up the middle to give Auburn a 28-23 lead with 14.9 seconds remaining. Auburn converted the two point conversion to put them up 30-23, which is where the score would stay.
Leicester wasn’t ready to give up, hitting one long pass but Powers next throw downfield with just 8 seconds remaining landed in the arms of Auburn’s Luke Mathews, ending the game.
After the game, the Top Cop MVP awards were given out to Leicester’s Matt Morrow and Auburn’s Steve Saucier.