Sone Aupiu makes sure St. Anthony football gets past Marina

WESTMINSTER — Sone Aupiu was nearly unstoppable again for St. Anthony, which wrapped the nonleague portion of its first season under Raul Lara with its third successive victory.

The Saints’ 43-27 triumph Friday night over Marina at Westminster High was not without problems — too many dropped passes, far too many penalties, a defensive effort that displeased Lara — but none of them mattered, ultimately, because their extraordinary running back can do special things. And he was, again, special.

One week after running for 356 yards and scoring four touchdowns in a victory at St. Pius X-St. Matthias, Aupiu blistered the Vikings’ defense for 268 yards and four more scores on the ground, plus two receptions for a game-best 54 yards.

He made the key plays in the Saints’ opening drive, which set a tone for the game, and — more important — as Marina was taking command at the start of the second half, driving for a tying touchdown and coming close to going ahead after a nice return on a short punt set them up just outside the red zone.

St. Anthony (3-3) dodged that one, applied heavy pressure on Vikings quarterback Brock Beaver and strong coverage on receiver Aidan O’Callaghan, who still came close to making miraculous end-zone catches on first, second and fourth down.

Then Aupiu, a bruising back with good speed and deceptively devastating moves — much of it product of an extensive rugby background — was off and gone, breaking tackles and gliding into open space on an 85-yard sprint that restored the Saints’ lead and killed whatever momentum the home team had built. He added two more fourth-quarter touchdowns, and that was that.

“Sone is the guy,” Lara said afterward. “When it becomes crunch time, I’m pretty sure I’m going with Sone for awhile and get everything else settled down.”

There’s still much to be settled as the Saints, No. 10 in the Press-Telegram rankings, look ahead to next week’s Del Rey League opener against La Salle. Lara, who as head coach won five CIF Southern Section championships at Long Beach Poly, didn’t take over until July, not enough time to create a foundation that would enable his small, in many places inexperienced roster to flourish.

There has been significant improvement each week as confidence grows, but Aupiu’s heroics only mask the shortcomings. The passing game remains hit and miss — at least a half-dozen catchable balls fell to the turf, “and if we catch them balls, it’s a different game,” Lara said — and he was not pleased with his defense’s consistency, calling it “one of the poorest defensive performances we’ve had.”

St. Anthony was flagged 14 times for 140 yards, including three personal fouls, pass interference on both sides of the ball, a face mask and three holding calls, two of those costing Aupiu an additional 24 yards. Marina’s touchdown right before halftime, a 32-yard Beaver-to-Bo Green that narrow its deficit to eight points, was aided by pass-interference and roughing-the-passer penalties. And the Vikings closed within nine points midway through the fourth quarter, on a 18-yard Dominic Harvery reception, after a face-mask call provided a first down after a third-and-12 sack.

“The penalties, the personal stuff, that’s killing us,” Lara said. “That’s the stuff we’ve got to clean up, especially if you play a much better-disciplined team. We’ve got a ways to go.

“I’m just glad that we got the win, preseason is over for us, .500 — not bad for the first year — and now here we got in league, and we’ll see what the league is all about. I think we’re as ready as we can be for the time that I’ve had with them.”

Marina (1-4), which has surrendered at least 43 points in three of its losses, was effective in spurts behind Beaver and running back Anthony Fabian. Fabian ran for 101 yards on 16 carries, most of it on a 56-yard touchdown spurt on the Vikings’ second offensive play, and Beaver (13 of 24 for 150 yards and three TDs) completed his first six second-half throws for 69 yards and an O’Callaghan touchdown (plus a 2-point pass to Fabian that made it 21-21 four minutes out of halftime.

The Vikings had no answer for Aupiu, who ran for double digits on eight of his 24 carries — including an easy-as-can-be 20-yard score in the second quarter (three plays after a Tyler Henry interception) and a 40-yard burst on the following drive, which led to Conor Hochberg’s 18-yard TD pass to Darius Davis for a 21-7 lead. Aupiu repeatedly broke multiple tackles and extended plays.

“It’s all up to my linemen,” said Aupiu, who has topped 100 yards four tines and has 1,021 this season after gaining 624 on successive Friday nights. “I’ve been thankful for them. They’ve been pounding the opposing teams, and it keeps working….. It’s the little things that happen on the field, and it’s unexpected. I just try to stay on my feet, and I do the rest.”

Said Lara: “If the offensive line does everything they’re supposed to, Sone gets out into that open field, and once he’s out in the open field, that rugby mentality comes in, where he’s hard to bring down.”

Marina coach Jeff Turley, who was Lara’s defensive coordinator during his 13-year tenure in charge at Poly, wasn’t happy with his team’s consistency on either side of the ball.

“I don’t know what’s going on.” he said. “It’s tough. It’s tough. I didn’t expect a season like this. We’ve still got {Big 4) league, we’ve still got time to wake up and get the job done, but we’re running out of time. I told the kids before: ‘You don’t block, you don’t tackle, you don’t win.’ And we didn’t do that tonight.”

The Vikings looked their best early in the second half, using a wildcat, with snaps to Fabian on six plays, the last a 28-yard run called back for holding, to set up four Beaver passes, the last three to O’Callaghan for 10, 22 and the 13-yard TD to tie the score. Three major penalties killed St. Anthony’s next drive, and Green returned Hochberg’s 18-yard punt 13 yards to the Saints 23. Marina was at the 10 three plays later, then the 15 after a delay-of-game penalty, but four missed passes ended that.

And then Aupiu went on his 85-yard run.

“He’s good,” said Turley, whose teams went 17-4 the previous two seasons, winning the Division 11 championship in 2019. “To stop their team, we had to stop him, and we didn’t do it.”

Hochberg finished 11 of 23 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns, the first to Kweku Claybrook on the opening drive — all but two of his completions were before halftime — and the Saints amassed 468 total yards after gaining 553 against St. Pius X-St. Matthias.

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