The Austin Packers football team was on the road Friday night in Albert Lea to renew their rivarly with the Tigers at Jim Gustafson Field, and a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown by Gage Manahan in the first quarter seemed to be the spark the Packers were looking for as they went on to dominate all three phases of the game in a 47-0 win.
The Packers had the ball first to start the game and were forced into a three and out, but Austin’s defense stepped to the fore and established a pattern that would prevail through the entire game as they forced the first of seven three-and-outs to force an Albert Lea punt. Manahan fielded the punt at the Packer 40, slipped out of an ankle tackle, broke another tackle, sprinted through a gap on the left side, cut to his right and outran everyone to the end zone for a 60-yard punt return for a touchdown. Joe Ewing’s extra point put Austin in front 7-0.
Things went from bad to worse for Albert Lea in their next drive as starting from their own 24, a fumble on the second play was recovered by Austin’s Aidan Pepper at the Tiger 20. Packer running back Joseph Walker carried the ball 13 yards to the Albert Lea 7-yard line on the first play of the ensuing drive for a first and goal, and on the next play, he bounced outside to the right and outran the Tiger defense to the pylon for a 7-yard touchdown and a 13-0 Austin lead after the extra point was missed.
The Packer offense was at it again two drives later as after another Albert Lea three-and-out, Austin took over at their own 17 after a 15-yard personal foul facemask penalty. Undeterred, the Packers marched 83 yards in six plays, capping the drive with a 28-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Teyghan Hovland to wide receiver Novell Jackson, and Ewing’s extra point increased Austin’s lead to 20-0.
Albert Lea started their ensuing drive at their own 22, but they were forced to punt the ball away after three plays and Austin took over at the Tiger 30 after a 22-yard punt return by Manahan. On the second play of the drive, Hovland found Jackson in the left flat, but in trying for extra yardage, Jackson was separated from the football and the Tigers recovered at their 30. The Austin defense quickly quelled any momentum, however, as they forced yet another three-and-out to force a Tiger punt. Sophomore punter Tanner Conn bobbled the snap, and under a heavy rush managed just a 3-yard punt, giving Austin the ball at the Albert Lea 33. Nine plays later, Hovland found Ethan Owens in the back of the end zone with a 6-yard touchdown pass to increase the Packer lead to 27-0 at the half.
Albert Lea started the second half with the ball, and though they were able to pick up a first down, they were forced to punt after six plays to give the ball back to Austin at the Packer 42. Austin’s offense picked up right where it left off in the first half as on the sixth play of the drive, Hovland went deep off of play action and found Owens in the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown pass to increase the Packer lead to 33-0 after the extra point was blocked.
Austin’s defense later notched a touchdown of their own as after a missed field goal by the Packers gave the ball to Albert Lea on the 20, Tiger quarterback Garrett Giles pitched to tailback Cameron Davis, who looked to be sweeping to the right. He suddenly threw a pass back to Giles, but Logan O’Rourke of Austin read the play beautifully and stepped in front of the pass at the Tiger 15 and waltzed into the end zone with a pick six to increase the Packer lead to 40-0. Running back Joe Hoffman later added a one-yard touchdown plunge to cap a seven play, 35 yard touchdown drive to make the final tally 47-0.
Hovland wound up going 8 of 13 passing for Austin for 100 yards and three TD’s, and he also carried the ball six times for 21 yards. Joseph Walker led the Packers in rushing as he carried the ball 12 times for 73 yards and a touchdown and Rylan Clark had four carries for 32 yards. Novell Jackson snagged four passes for 39 yards, Ethan Owens wound up with two catches for 39 yards and the two TD’s, Logan O’Rourke tallied one catch for 29 yards and Tommy Fritz had one catch for nine yards. Austin’s defense held Albert Lea to 73 yards of total offense and three first downs for the entire game as Aidan Pepper added a sack to go with his fumble recovery, and Blake Smith intercepted a Giles pass on the last play of the first half.
With the win, Austin is now 1-1 on the season, and their next game will be their home opener next Saturday night versus the 2-0 Byron Bears, who blanked Winona Friday evening 28-0. You’ll hear the game on US Country 99.9 next Saturday night with Minnesota Gopher football on AM 1480 KAUS, with the pre-game show coming your way at 6:30 p.m. and kickoff from Art Hass Stadium at 7:00 p.m.