The Austin Packers and the Rochester Century Panthers, two teams looking to get back on the winning track met in a Big Southeast District Red Division matchup in Rochester Saturday night, and in Century’s Homecoming game, the hosts were able to score 14 unanswered second half points on their way to a 20-7 win.
The Packers won the opening coin flip and deferred to the second half, giving Century the ball first. Starting from their own 23, the Panthers had the ball for eight plays before they were forced to punt, and punter, tight end and defensive back Elijah Anderson angled a left-footed punt 41 yards to the left sideline and out of bounds at the Austin 5-yard line. The Packers were forced into a three-and-out, and a Joe Ewing punt gave Century the ball back on their own 49. Austin’s defense came up big on the fifth play of the drive as a hand-off from Panthers quarterback Harrison Esau to wide receiver Jose Mares was fumbled, and the Packers recovered at their 41. A 22-yard run by running back Tommy Fritz on 3rd and 9 helped Austin move the ball into the red zone, and on 3rd and goal from the 18-yard line, quarterback Jack Lang found wide receiver Isaac Osgood in the back of the end zone for a touchdown, giving the Packers a 7-0 lead after Ewing’s extra point.
Century started their next drive with good starting field position at their own 45, and a 36-yard pass from Esau to Anderson on 3rd and 23 moved the ball into Austin territory. A Packer sack, one of four the squad registered for the game put the Panthers into a 3rd and 22 situation at the Austin 46. A strike from Esau to wide reeiver Joshua Berg, who made a diving catch by the left sideline made it 4th and 1, but again, the Packer defense came up large as running back Carson Skime fumbled after being drilled behind the line of scrimmage looking for running room on the right side of the line. The Packers recovered, giving them the ball at their 24.
The two teams then traded punts before Austin took over on their own 36 late in the 2nd quarter. A 49-yard pass from Lang to Peyton Ransom put the Packers in business at the Panther 15-yard line, but Century’s defense stiffened from there, forcing a 28-yard field goal attempt by Joe Ewing with :50 left in the half. Unfortunately for Austin, momentum decided to shift to the Century sideline as the kick was blocked, bounced up into the air and settled right into the hands of Josh Berg, who raced untouched 76 yards for a stunning touchdown and a 7-6 score at the half after Jose Mares missed the extra point wide left.
The Packers had the ball to start the second half, and starting from their own 37, an 18-yard pass from Lang to Ransom moved the ball into Panther territory. Century’s defense dug in from there, however, and Austin turned the ball over on downs to the Panthers at their 36-yard line. Century then embarked on their best drive of the game as they marched 64 yards in 11 plays, converting a 4th and 2 along the way, and Esau hit Berg with a perfect pass in the end zone from 14 yards out to give the Panthers a 14-7 lead after the 2-point conversion pass from Esau to wide receiver Jacob Wills.
The Packers started their next drive at their own 38, and again they were able to move the ball into Century territory, but again, it was the Panthers defense coming up with a stop as they turned Austin away on 3rd and 2 and then 4th and 1 to give the ball back to their offense at the Century 41. The Panthers quickly capitalized on the stop as on the second play of the ensuing drive, Esau went up top and hit Wills with a deep fade to the right side of the field. Wills then proceeded down the sideline, sidestepped a tackle and took it the rest of the way into the end zone for a 58-yard touchdown and a 20-7 Century lead after the extra point was blocked.
With the game now ticking into the latter stages of the 4th quarter, the two teams proceeded to exchange punts, and another good punt by Century’s Elijah Thompson pinned Austin at their own 2-yard line. A diving catch by Ransom gave the Packers a first down at their own 14, but the drive stalled from there, and Century forced a turnover on downs. Ransom came up big again for Austin two plays later, however, as he picked off an Esau pass into the end zone intented for Josh Berg, giving the Packers the ball right back at their own 20.
Needing two scores with just under four minutes to play, the Packers embarked on a drive that saw Lang connect with running back Tommy Fritz on a 36-yard pass play on 3rd and 10 to move the ball into Panther territory. The two connected again a short time later for 13 more yards, and Lang also connected with Isaac Osgood for 13 yards to move the ball just into the red zone at the 19-yard line, but again, Century’s defense came up with a stop when they needed one, and a blitz on 4th down forced an incomplete pass and a turnover on downs. The Panthers then ran another four plays to run out the clock and secure the win.
With the loss, Austin is now 1-4 on the season. The Packers will again be in action on a Saturday as they play host to top-ranked Mankato West next Saturday at Art Hass Stadium, with kick-off at noon. You’ll hear the game on AM 1480 KAUS, with the Austin Packers pre-game show starting at 11:30 a.m.