The Austin Packers football team faced a tough road test Friday night as they traveled to Rochester to take on the Mayo Spartans, the No. 8 team in the state in the latest Class AAAAA poll, and it was the Spartans reeling off 29 unanswered points from late in the first half into the second half to pull away for a 57-26 win.
Things got out to a fantastic start for Austin when senior wide receiver and defensive back Manny Guy ran the opening kickoff back 46 yards to the Mayo 44-yard line, giving the Packers excellent field position for their first drive. Austin moved the ball to the Spartan 23-yard line, and facing 4th and 3 on the eighth play of the drive, senior quarterback Jack Lang hit Guy in stride with a pass over the middle, and he then outran everyone to the end zone for a 7-0 Packer lead after kicker Cale Tupy’s extra point.
Rochester Mayo’s offense, averaging just over 39 points per game answered back on their first drive as a 48-yard run by big senior fullback Rudy Lozoya helped key a seven play, 72-yard touchdown drive, capped off by a 2-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Isaiah Beale and a 7-7 tie after kicker Ethan Post’s extra point.
The Spartans then showed their aggressive nature on special teams as a suprise onsides kick from Post was recovered by Mayo at the Austin 48-yard line, and five plays later, junior quarterback Rees Grimsrud found star wide receiver Carter Holcolmb in the back left corner of the end zone with a perfect pass, and the 26-yard touchdown strike put the Spartans in front, 14-7.
Austin came firing right back on their next possession as starting from their own 30, a 19-yard pass from Lang to junior wide receiver Peyton Ransom, who had a huge game for the Packers helped to move the ball downfield to the Mayo 28-yard line. On 4th and 10, Lang was able to find senior running back Tommy Fritz on a wheel route out of the backfield, and Fritz was able to stretch the ball inside the pylon in the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown connection and a 14-13 Spartan lead after Tupy’s extra point was blocked.
The back-and-forth nature of the first half continued on the ensuing drive for Mayo as the Spartan offense, keyed by a 19-yard run from Lozoya and a 15-yard pass from Grimsrud to Holcolmb quickly moved the ball from their 37 into the red zone, and on the first play of the second quarter, Grimsrud found Holcolmb with a perfect fade pass in the deep right corner of the end zone from six yards out and a 21-13 Spartan lead early in the second quarter.
Holcolmb then showed his prowness as a defensive back on Austin’s next drive when he picked off a Jack Lang pass on the third play of the drive and returned the interception 42 yards to the Packer 29-yard line. Austin’s defense then came up with a big play of their own as on the second play of Mayo’s ensuing drive, Grimsrud went up top with a pass into the end zone for Holcolmb, but he was double-covered, and Peyton Ransom came away with an interception, thwarting the drive and giving the Packers the ball back at their own 20.
Austin then proceeded to move the ball into Mayo territory, helped along by a 15-yard run by Fritz, and facing 3rd and long, a beautiful back shoulder throw from Lang to H-back Brayden Bishop on the left sideline for a first down was called back due to a holding penalty, and the Packers were forced to punt the ball away. Starting from their own 40, the Spartan offense again moved the ball methodically down the field, keyed by a 28-yard from Lozoya. On the eighth play of the drive, a 9-yard touchdown run from senior running back Tore Papenfuss gave Mayo a 28-13 lead.
The Spartans then attempted not one but two onside kicks, the first being called back due to an illegal procedure penalty, and Austin recovered the second attempt at the Mayo 46. The Packers proceeded to cash in on the great field position as a 21-yard pass from Lang to Ransom helped move the ball to the Spartan 26. On the sixth play of the drive, Lang went back to pass on 4th and 10 and heaved a long pass into the deep left corner of the end zone, which was nabbed by Guy with a leaping catch to cut Mayo’s lead to 28-20 after Tupy’s extra point.
Mayo quickly took back the momentum of the game, however, as starting from their own 45, a 22-yard run by Beale and a crucial 32-yard pass on third down from Grimsrud to junior wide receiver Lucas Peterson put the ball 1st and goal at the Austin 4-yard line. Lozoya rumbled into the end zone on the very next play, and Beale’s 2-point conversion run with under a minute left in the first half gave Mayo a 36-20 lead at the halftime break.
The Spartans continued their run of 29 unanswered points at the start of the second half as they went 65 yards in five plays, capped off by a 22-yard touchdown from Beale and a 2-point conversion run from Lozoya to take a 44-20 lead. Austin’s next two drives ended via a fumble after a sack and a turnover on downs, and the Spartans added two more touchdowns, a 35-yard touchdown pass from Grimsrud to Holcolmb, their third connection for a score and a 5-yard touchdown run from Lozoya in the 4th quarter to make the score 57-20 at that time. Austin’s last touchdown of the game then followed on the ensuing drive as starting from their own 47, Lang went long down the left sideline on the first play and found Guy behind the Mayo defense for a 47-yard touchdown strike to account for the 57-26 final after a 2-point conversion pass was knocked away.
With the loss, Austin is now 1-6 on the season, and the Packers will play host to winless Albert Lea in the regular-season finale for both squads at Art Hass Stadium next Wednesday evening, with kickoff at 7:00 p.m. You’ll hear the game on AM 1480 KAUS, with the Austin Packers pre-game show starting at 6:30 p.m.