The Austin Packers football team, the No. 5 seed in the Section 1AAAAA tournament traveled to Rochester Tuesday evening in search of their first playoff win since 2017 versus the fourth-seeded Century Panthers, and in a game that saw momentum shift back and forth throughout the contest, a late Packer rally fell just short in a 21-19 loss.
The two teams battled through a scoreless first quarter before Century’s defense forced an Austin three-and-out deep in their end of the field midway through the second quarter to take possession at the Packer 46-yard line. Two plays into the drive, Panther running back Ahmonte Davis sprinted through a hole on the right side of the line and galloped 46 yards for a Century touchdown and a 7-0 lead after kicker Brady Buchmann’s extra point.
Austin’s offense answered immediately on the ensuing drive as taking over on their own 20, the Packers marched down the field mainly on the running of senior running back Tommy Fritz, who capped off the 10-play march by running into the end zone from five yards out and a 7-7 tie after kicker Cale Tupy’s extra point.
The offenses continued to put points on the board as the Panthers proceeded to put together a five-play, 60 yard touchdown drive following the Austin touchdown that was capped off by a 45-yard scoring pass from quarterback Harrison Esau down the middle of the field to wide receiver Josh Berg, who made a juggling catch for a 14-7 Century lead after the extra point.
Austin again had the answer, though, as an onside kick from the Panthers after the touchdown was snared beautifully by 6’6″, 218 pound senior offensive tackle Kenny Cabeen at the Century 44. The Packers took advantage of the good field position as a 17-yard pass from senior quarterback Jack Lang to junior wide receiver Isaac Osgood helped Austin move the ball into the red zone, and on the fifth play of the drive, Lang found senior wideout Manny Guy over the middle with a 32-yard touchdown strike with just over 1:10 left in the half to cut the Century lead to 14-13. Tupy’s initial extra point attempt was good, but the Packers were flagged for illegal motion, and the next attempt was blocked by Century’s Carson Skime to keep the Panthers in the lead 14-13 at the half.
Century received the second half kickoff and proceeded to kick their running game into high gear, with Ahmonte Davis seeing nine carries for 56 yards during a 13-play, 80-yard drive, which he capped off with a 1-yard touchdown run to put the Panthers into the lead, 21-13.
The two teams then proceeded to trade punts before Austin took over at their own 43-yard line. The Panthers defense came up with a big play on the second play of the drive when Lang was intercepted by Skime, who ran the ball back to the Packer 30-yard line to give Century the momentum back, along with great field position. Austin’s defense had the answer, however, as they forced a 4th and 5 situation for Panthers at the Packer 24. Instead of going for the first down, the Panthers opted to attempt a 41-yard field goal attempt, and kicker Brady Buchmann’s kick fell well short, giving Austin the ball back at their 20.
The Packer offense then headed back the other way on the ensuing drive and proceeded to work the ball into Century territory, but an apparent touchdown pass was called back by an offensive pass interference penalty, and the Packers turned the ball over on downs at the Century 35. Looking to take time off the 4th quarter clock, the Panthers crossed the 50 with two running plays to start the ensuing drive, but on the third play, wide receiver/running back Christopher Garcia-Lara never got the handle on a hand-off from Esau, and the Packers recovered his fumble at their own 42.
Looking for the tying touchdown and 2-point conversion, the Packers embarked on a nine-play, 58-yard touchdown march that was capped off by a 32-yard touchdown pass from Lang to Fritz on 4th and 15 with just over 4:00 left in the game to cut the Century lead to 21-19. Immediatley after the score, the Packers, who were whistled for 10 penalties in the game for 102 yards were flagged for a crucial 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct infraction, which moved the 2-point attempt back to the 18-yard line. A pass by Lang under heavy pressure on the try for two was intercepted well short of the goal line, keeping the score at 21-19.
With under four minutes to play, Austin attempted an onside kick, but the ball was recovered by the Panthers at the Packer 37, and Century’s offense was able to pick up two first downs to run out the clock and seal the win.
Austin finishes their season with a record of 2-7, while the 3-6 Panthers will take on No. 1 seed and defending section champion Rochester Mayo at Spartan Stadium Saturday night in the section semi-finals. The other semi-final Saturday night will pit No. 2 Owatonna at home versus third-seeded Northfield, who defeated No. 6 seed Rochester John Marshall 41-6 Tuesday night in the other Section 1AAAAA quarterfinal matchup.