In a season full of outstanding performances by the special teams, the Tigers saved their best for last and the special teams coordinator says he couldn't be more pleased with the effort.
"It is very rewarding to see the guys play like that," Boulware tells Inside the Auburn Tigers. "Those guys have done an awesome job and it just makes me feel good inside to see them go out and execute a game plan we worked so hard on during the three or four weeks preparing for the bowl game. They performed it to a T."
Perhaps the most impressive part of Auburn's 42-24 Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over Virginia was that the Tigers blocked two punts in the same game for the first time in eight years. Those special teams plays led to a dozen points for the Tigers.
The first blocked punt in the opening quarter excited Boulware as freshman Garrett Harper's block gave the Tigers great field position at the UVA 15 yard line. Two plays later freshman quarterback Kiehl Frazier scored on a three-yard run.
"We felt like in the back end they were a little soft," Boulware said of Virginia's punt protection unit. "We felt like if we overloaded them inside we might have the chance to swat one.
"On the first block we overloaded the middle," the coach noted. "We sent some little guys around the edge and one little guy, a player who walked on to our team and did everything right this year named Garrett Harper, made the block. He showed a knack for blocking punts and he finally got one. I'm so stinking proud of him."
Garrett Harper falls on the ball after blocking a punt against Virginia.
Another freshman got the second blocked punt. Angelo Blackson knocked the Virginia punt attempt through the back of the end zone for two points. On the free kick following the safety, freshman Quan Bray raced 62 yards and that set up three more points on a field goal by Cody Parkey.
Quan Bray tries to go the distance returning the free kick vs. Virginia.
Parkey wrapped up one of the best season-long kickoff performances in Auburn history with four more touchbacks. Of his 66 kickoffs, 38 went into or out of the end zone and were not returned.
The sophomore kicker was also involved in one of the most impressive plays of a game filled with big plays by the Tigers, who finished their season with an 8-5 record. Parkey and the rest of the kickoff unit caught UVA off guard with a perfectly executed onside kick with the score tied 14-14.
With teammates in front blocking for him so he could recover the football unopposed, Parkey fell on the ball after it rolled the required 10 yards to be recovered by the kicking team.
Auburn took over at its own 41-yard line. The fired up Tigers then scored again and never trailed the rest of the contest as they won a school record fifth straight bowl game. Before the night was finished Parkey added a 45-yard field goal, his longest of the season.
Another sophomore finished a strong year with a good special teams performance in the bowl. Steven Clark averaged 49 yards on his three punts. None were returned. He finished the season with just 10 of his 72 punts being returned for a total of just 62 yards all season.
Steven Clark was one of three finalists for the Ray Guy Award given annually to the nation's top punter.
Cornerback Chris Davis, who was named the Chick-fil-A Defensive Player of the Game, contributed a big play on special teams by making an open field tackle to thwart a fake field goal by Virginia.
"He did a really nice job on that play,"?says Boulware. "Coach (Mike) Pelton actually handles that (field goal defense) for us just like Coach (Tracy) Rocker did before when he did a nice job.
"Obviously, Quan Bray on his kickoff return did a nice job, too, and Cody Parkey did a great job of executing the slow (onside) kick that we do," Boulware adds.
The coach notes that the Tigers were originally going to do their onside kick after their first touchdown, but head coach Gene Chizik, who was serving as interim defensive coordinator, was going over details with the defense and Boulware didn't have the green light to call the onside kick at that moment. However, Auburn's timing couldn't have been better to try it after the second touchdown as the play worked perfectly.
"Coach Chizik told us he had his hands full with the defense so I got the thumbs up from him beforehand and we just went for it," Boulware says.
After the victory Chizik mentioned he was really pleased with how much effort the players put into their bowl preparations. Boulware agrees with the head coach.
"Those kids did everything we asked them to do," the special teams coordinator says. "They really worked hard at executing the game plan. They did an awesome job. I'm so proud of them and I am so happy for them."