The incredible has become legendary.
Ten years ago this weekend the Auburn High School football team won the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class AA championship — an improbable feat that still resonates with many Auburnians today.
The title came Nov. 25, 2006, after an epic 27-26 overtime contest against defending-champion Monroe-Woodbury before a Carrier Dome crowd of about 10,000, the vast majority from Auburn.
The championship game had twists and turns throughout but it was symbolic of the path the Maroons took to get to the summit of New York high school football.
What made this championship even more incredible was that the Maroons weren't even supposed to be in the Section III playoffs. Auburn finished the regular season 4-3 and lost out on a tiebreaker for the final sectional berth.
Auburn coach Dave Moskov remembers addressing his solemn team on Monday, thinking the season was over.
"We gathered in the locker room and said, 'Guys, we're done,'" Moskov said. "We knew we had a good team. But there was no thought of we're going to get called three days later and go to the playoffs."
Moskov was touched that his team still wanted to play a meaningless crossover game as the players stood up and said they wanted to play for each other.
"Every kid said we were here for each other," he said. "Those three days to me, that was the moment the tone was set."
Three days later, Auburn got the stunning news they were in the postseason when Corcoran was disqualified for using an ineligible player. A decade later, several players from that team spoke with The Citizen about their memories about that moment and the magical string of games that unfolded after it.
"They say we got into the playoffs on a technicality, but in all actuality we should've been in the playoffs from the start," said running back/defensive back/kicker Matt Hoey. "We were tied at 4-3 with three teams and a fluke tiebreaker, which I don't agree with, is how we got left out. It's not as if we didn't deserve the spot when we got in, that is one thing that really bothers me. People call it a fluke run but the coaches and players, we all knew we belonged."
It was almost over before it even started. Auburn trailed Henninger 40-20 with 8:15 left in the first-round sectional playoff game.
"At the end of the third quarter we huddled up and said it's not over, it's do-or-die now," said wide receiver Jeff Richardson. "It's funny but we looked in the stands and everybody was leaving."
Colin Parry, who was a center and linebacker, has clear memories of that fateful fourth quarter.
"I was a senior and I looked at my right guard, Ryan Hutchings, and we looked at each other and said there's eight minutes left, listen, if this is going to be our last game together, let's go out the right way and play really hard the last eight minutes," he said. "We're not going to quit, give up."
Unbelievably, it quickly changed. A series of successful onside kick recoveries, a trio of Quendel Ellison touchdowns, Hoey caught a scoring pass from quarterback Darnell Murphy and Auburn miraculously won 47-40.
Moskov can still hear the players yelling "We got this, we got this!" as the rally unfolded.
"They truly believed they were going to win that game," he said. "After that game, they believed they were going to win."
The first sectional win in Auburn history was historic but it was just the start as the Maroons then beat Fayetteville-Manlius to reach the Section III, Class AA championship and a match-up with old nemesis Rome Free Academy.
The Black Knights, who usually had their way with the Maroons, were no match as Auburn blew them out of the Carrier Dome 42-14 to win the Class AA title and a berth in the state playoffs.
"As far as the run itself for us players it was a ride that we weren't willing to get off," Hoey said. "Once we got in, we weren't going to let the opportunity slip by. Our coaches made that entire run fun and that team is one of the closest I've ever been on if not the closest. All year long even before the playoffs we had team dinners Thursday nights before the games and that continued on Friday nights once we got into the playoffs. Guys hung out after practice and did things on the weekends together, we were all very close. We were all very loose during every game, the moment wasn't too big for our team and we just took it one practice at a time, one game at a time, never looked ahead."
The momentum continued to build in the state playoffs, as Auburn routed Union-Endicott 39-7 in the quarterfinals and beat Marshall in the semifinals.
"The fact that we weren’t supposed to be there in the first place gave the team a kind of 'we’ve got nothing to lose' mentality which stuck with us throughout the run to the state championship," said wide receiver/defensive back Mike Fandrich. "I don’t think that many of the guys on the team, myself included, realized how remarkable that playoff run really was until we reached the state championship game."
Auburn would return to the Carrier Dome for a title date with undefeated and top-ranked Monroe-Woodbury.
If the Maroons were dreaming of winning the state championship, it didn't take long for the Crusaders to wake them up as they returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown stunning the thousands of Auburn fans who were just settling into their seats.
"I didn’t realize the kind of effect that our team had on the community until what seemed like the entire city of Auburn packed into our side of the Dome for the state championship game," Fandrich said. "That was when the weight of the whole playoff run hit many of the players on the team — which might have contributed to Monroe-Woodbury returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown."
The Maroons shook off that initial shock and came back to lead 20-13. Monroe-Woodbury took advantage of an Auburn turnover to tie it at 20 with 1:22 left to force overtime. The Crusaders scored first but missed the extra point giving Auburn hope.
Murphy lofted a 20-yard touchdown pass to Richardson to tie it. Now, Hoey would have the chance to win the state title with the extra point. But he missed the kick after a bobbled snap. It looked like the game would continue. However, a roughing-the-kicker penalty gave Hoey another chance.
"I think we were all in disbelief that I missed it, but Coach Moskov came into the huddle and made a joke," Hoey said. "If I remember correctly I think he looked at me and said 'we had to make it interesting.' That kind of took the pressure off of us and really just made us feel like it was any other extra point we'd lined up for that year. I just remember telling Chris Gomez, a close friend of mine that I grew up with, and our holder, that I had this one. It was a perfect snap, perfect hold, and I like to think a perfect kick."
It was the perfect kick that gave the Maroons the state title.
"I'm thankful that I got roughed and had the opportunity to redeem myself," Hoey said. "I'm not sure how long it would have taken me to get over that game if we had ended up losing because of that missed extra point. It was a big moment in that game but that entire game and entire run was a total team effort. Without the team I never would've had the opportunity to kick an extra point to win a state title."
While most fans may remember the championship game first — for the players and coaches, they look back with fondness on how the community responded to the six-week run through sectionals and states.
"They felt the energy and rallied around something positive," Moskov said. "That still unites people in Auburn. The kids were treated so graciously. The feeling of that unity, the community felt the same thing as the players."
"The run to the state title was an incredible time for me and my teammates as well as this city," Hoey said. "Even at 16 and 17 we could see the impact it was having on the community. What showed that was the support at our games and the support at home, whether it was the pep rallies, the parade, the bonfires, the dinners. We could tell that the community had a sense of pride in that team and we were giving them something to look forward to."
"The football memories stand out but the off-the-field stuff was the most memorable," said Parry, who works as an Auburn teacher's aide and varsity assistant football coach.
Now, after a decade, there's a new generation of Maroons who have learned about the 2006 team.
"The whole playoff run was always going to be memorable for everything," said Richardson, who now coaches modified football in the Auburn school district, JV basketball in the Syracuse school district and AAU basketball. "They (the modified players) always ask questions so I told them about the YouTube video. They ask how did it feel and will it ever happen again."
The champions reunited this past season when Auburn played Nottingham on Sept. 16. After the victory, Moskov said the 2016 Maroons wanted their 2006 predecessors to share the experience of singing the alma mater.
"A bunch of our kids said, "Coach, get the 2006 team, get the champs out here,'" Moskov said. "So our kids waved the 2006 team to come out and sing the fight song. Here's 10 years between them but there's a connection between the generations."
Ten years later, Moskov and his players understand better what winning the state title meant, a six-week journey that united the Maroons with a special bond.
"Coach Moskov would probably like me to say that the state championship run taught us all lessons about teamwork, perseverance and capitalizing on the opportunities that you are given," said Fandrich who graduated from SUNY Geneseo and now works for two area members of Congress. "That is all true, however, looking back, what has struck me most about winning the state championship is how it put the city of Auburn on the map. For maybe five or six years after we won, whenever I told someone that I was from Auburn, they would often ask 'were on you that team?' That reinforced to me the impact that the state title run had on our community and really showed how widely our unlikely story was spread."
"The state championship run hasn't really influenced what I have done in life since then," said Hoey, who graduated with a business/economics degree from SUNY Cortland and works in finance for BNY Mellon in Syracuse. "But it left me with lifelong friendships that I may have not had if we didn't get that extra two months together as a team. It taught me to never give up even when everyone has you counted out and if you are given and opportunity in life you have to make the most of it."
"When you can have a personal experience and say we are here for each other, that was a deep bond," Moskov said. "To be able to play for six weeks was truly a blessing and to say we had another shot. That bond is special with those kids."