It is a well-known axiom in football that special teams play can turn the fortunes of a game for and against a team.
Unfortunately for the Austin Packers, a first quarter 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Zach Slinger of the Faribault Falcons seemed to swing the momentum of Friday night’s game at Art Hass Stadium in the direction of the Falcons for the rest of the way as Faribault went on to defeat Austin 48-7.
Faribault won the opening coin toss and deferred to the second half, and the Packers wasted no time in going up top on the first play of the game. Quarterback Teyghan Hovland’s long pass was a bit underthrown, and Faribault’s Ian Ehlers was able to work his way back to the football first and came up with an interception to give the Falcons the ball at their 46.
Faribault then kept the momentum on their sideline as they capped an eight-play, 54-yard touchdown drive with a 1-yard touchdown run by junior quarterback Hunter Nelson and a two-point conversion run by running back Alex Gardner to take a quick 8-0 lead.
Austin came back with their most impressive drive of the night as starting from their own 35, a 20-yard pass from Hovland to running back Joseph Walker on a wheel route down the right sideline helped the Packers work the ball into Faribault territory. On 4th and 12 from the Falcon 29, Hovland let fly with a long pass down the left sideline that found wide receiver Novell Jackson in the end zone to cap a 10-play, 65-yard drive. Joe Ewing’s extra point cut Faribault’s lead to 8-7.
Any momentum Austin had quickly went back to Faribault on the ensuing kickoff, though, as Zack Slinger bobbled Ewing’s kick initially at the 4-yard line, he scooped the ball up at the 6, started to his left, sprinted through a seam to the sideline and outran everyone to the end zone for a crushing touchdown for the Falcons. The 2-point conversion was no good, leaving Faribault’s lead at 14-7.
Things went from bad to worse for Austin on the ensuing drive as starting from their 35, the Packers were forced into a three-and-out, and the snap on the punt went over Joe Ewing’s head back to the 21-yard line, and he was tackled at the 24, setting the Falcons up deep in Austin territory. Faribault went for the end zone on the first play of the ensuing drive, and the southpaw Nelson found wide receiver AJ Worrall in the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown pass and a 22-7 lead after the 2-point conversion run by Alex Gardner.
Austin turned the ball over for the second time on their next drive as Hovland was intercepted by Gardner at the Falcon 46, and he ran the ball back 32 yards to the Packer 26. On the fifth play of the ensuing drive, Nelson found tight end John Palmer in the back of the end zone with a 10-yard touchdown pass and a 30-7 lead after another 2-point conversion run by Gardner.
Austin’s first half woes continued on their next drive as Hovland was sacked on third down, and then had to leave the game with an injury and did not return. The Packer defense forced the first punt for Faribault on the next drive, but the Falcons then forced another three-and-out and a 21-yard punt return by Johnny Frank set the Falcons up at the Austin 46. Seven plays later, Gardner rumbled into the end zone from three yards out, and the try for two was no good, giving Faribault a 36-7 lead at halftime.
Faribault tacked on two more touchdowns on their first two drives of the second half to account for the rest of the scoring. Starting from their own 7-yard line on the first drive of the half, Nelson went back to pass and found senior wide receiver Carter Breitenfeld in stride down the left sideline for a 75-yard scoring strike, his third TD pass of the game to increase the Falcon lead to 42-7 after the try for two was no good. After Faribault’s defense forced a turnover on downs on Austin’s next drive, the Falcons started from their own 48 and on the fourth play of the drive, Nelson kept the ball on the read option and sprinted 23 yards for a touchdown, making the final score 48-7 after a missed extra point.
Backup sophomore quarterback Jack Lang led Austin in rushing Friday night with two carries for 18 yards, Teyghan Hovland carried the ball three times for 16 yard and Joseph Walker toted the ball 11 times for 10 yards. Hovland passing was 3 for 7 for 53 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, and Lang wound up 3 for 10 for 56 yards. Novell Jackson led the Packers in receiving for the game with two catches for 38 yards and a touchdown, Joe Ewing had one catch for 23 yards, Joseph Walked hauled in one pass for 20 yards, Gage Manahan snagged two passes for 19 yards and Ethan Owens had one catch for 12 yards. Defensively for Austin, Danny Christgau came up with two fumble recoveries in the second half.
With the loss, Austin falls to 1-3 on the season, and they are back in action next Friday night in Rochester versus the John Marshall Rockets. The Austin Packers pre-game show will come your way at 6:30 next Friday night from John Drews Field on AM 1480 KAUS, with kickoff from the Med City at 7:00 p.m. You can also catch next Friday’s game on the worldwide web at myaustinminnesota.com, and on the I Heart Radio app.