The Austin Packers football team entertained Rochester Century at Art Hass Stadium in front of a big homecoming crowd Friday evening, and in their first visit to Austin since 2011, the Panthers rallied back from deficits of 7-0 an 14-7 to down the Packers 28-20 for their first win of the season.
Century won the opening toss and deferred to the second half, so it was Austin who had the first crack offensivley in the game, and starting from their own 43, the Packers turned the ball over on downs to the Panthers at the Century 48. The Panthers gave the ball right back to Austin, though, as a fumble on the second play of the ensuing drive was recovered by Wyatt Thoma of the Packers to give Austin the ball at their 48. Century took the ball right back when Ausitn quarterback Jack Lang was intercepted on the first play of the next drive, giving the Panthers the ball at their 47. Austin’s defense forced a three-and-out, and taking over from their own 44 after a short punt, running back Joseph Walker ripped off a 31-yard run to move the ball quickly to the Century 25-yard line. Three plays later, Walker was at it again as he took a handoff and went 23 yards for a Packer touchdown. Joe Ewing’s extra point put Austin in front at the end of one quarter, 7-0.
Century took over at their 34 after the ensuing kickoff and had the ball for 11 plays before the drive stalled at the Austin 19-yard line. The Packers were forced to punt after four plays and, unfortunately like last week’s game in Owatonna, a bad snap from center to punter Joe Ewing sent him sprinting back into the end zone to retrieve the ball, and he was only able to make it out to the 3-yard line before being tackled. Century took full advantage of the miscue as running back Cole Elbing ran the ball into the end zone on the first play of Century’s next drive to tie the game at 7 after Charles Paul’s extra point.
Austin came back swinging after the Panther touchdown as starting at their 22 after an illegal block in the back penalty, Walker took a handoff from Lang, sprinted through a hole on the left side of the line, got to the sideline and outran everyone to the end zone for a 78-yard touchdown dash and a 14-7 lead after the extra point.
Century came right back at the Packers, though, as starting from their own 19 on their next drive, on 3rd and 5 senior quarterback Matthew Haun rolled to his right and lofted a perfect pass on the move down the right sideline to wide receiver Jacob Wills, who brought in the pass and outran the Packer defense to the end zone for a 65-yard touchdown and a 14-14 tie after the extra point.
Austin again turned the ball over on downs on their next drive, and Century took possesson on their own 44. The Packer defense stood tall, though, and the Panthers were forced into a three-and-out. After a 48-yard punt from Nathan Kram, Austin was forced to start from its own 8-yard line, and after a three-and-out, Century took over on their own 43 late in the first half. On the third play of the ensuing drive, Haun had time to throw and lofted a perfect pass down the seam on the left side of the field to Wills, who made the catch in stride, made a cut to his left toward the sideline and sprinted the rest of the way for a crushing 55-yard touchdown with only :20 left to play in the half to send the Panthers into the locker room with a 21-14 lead.
Austin’s defense came up with a huge play on the first drive of the second half as on the fifth play of Century’s drive, cornerback Manny Guy picked off a Haun pass and raced 39 yards to the Panther 20. Here, Century’s defense set the tone for the rest of the half as the Packers were stymied on three plays, and a 36-yard field goal attempt by Joe Ewing was no good after being tipped at the line of scrimmage, giving the Panthers the ball back at their 20.
Century was forced to punt after four plays, and Austin had great field position at the Panther 49. A 22-yard middle screen pass from Lang to Walker moved the ball inside the 30, but Century’s defense held firm from there, forcing a turnover on downs at their 25.
After the two teams traded punts, Century took over on their 33, and on the sixth play of the drive with the rain coming down at Art Hass Stadium, running back Cole Elbing worked his way into the secondary but fumbled the ball, and the Packers recovered at their 17. Any momentum Austin had was short-lived, however, as Century’s defense separated Walker from the ball and the Panthers recovered at the Packer 33. On the first play of the next drive, Elbing was able to find running room through the left side of his offensive line, worked his way to the sideline and sprinted 33 yards for a touchdown and a 28-14 Panther lead.
Now down two scores with 5:35 to play, the Packers came roaring back down the field as another screen pass from Lang to Walker this time picked up 55 yards, moving Austin from their 35 to the Century 20-yard line. On the fifth play of the drive, Lang went back to pass and found Guy in the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown and a 28-20 Panther lead after the extra point was blocked.
Austin’s Joe Ewing chipped a high, end-over-end kick on the ensuing kickoff as the Packers were hoping for a fortunate bounce or a misplay by the Panthers, but kick returner Kunish Sillikpoh recovered the kick for Century at their 37 with just under 3:00 to go. Austin had all three of their timeouts left to stop the clock as they tried to force the Panthers into a turnover or a punt, but Century’s running game came up big when needed as three first downs enabled the Panthers to run out the clock and seal the win.
With the loss, Austin falls to 0-5 on the season, and the Packers will travel to Mankato next Saturday to take on the West Scarlets, who will remain the No. 1 team in the state in Class 5A with a 30-6 win over No. 6 ranked Rochester Mayo Friday night. Kickoff that afternoon is scheduled for 1:00 p.m.