The Austin Packers were looking to snap a two-game losing skid Friday night in front of a large, raucous Homecoming crowd at Art Hass Stadium against the Winona Winhawks, but Winona spoiled the party by showing why they are the number 3 team in the state in Class 4A with a 31-7 win.
The Winhawks received the opening kickoff and a 52-yard pass from quarterback Jackson Nibbelink to wide receiver Austin Mlynczak moved the Winhawks into the red zone, but soon thereafter, Nick Dunlap tipped a Nibbelink pass up into the air to himself for an interception to stop the drive at the Packer 10-yard line.
The big, fast and physical Winhawks defense flexed its muscle and forced a three-and-out to force an Austin punt, and Samuel Misoi thumped a punt 49 yards to the Winona 45. The Packer defense was able to force a third and 21 on the ensuing drive, but it was Nibbelink hitting Mlynczak on a short pass, and he was able to pick up 25 yards and a first down to keep the drive alive. On the 13th play of the drive, fullback Sam Kanne bulled his way into the end zone from 5 yards out to put Winona ahead 6-0 after the extra point from kicker Bryan Cassellius hooked wide left.
The Packers started from their own 26 on the enusing drive and had the ball for seven plays, but were forced to punt. The Austin defense then forced the first Winona punt of the game, but the Packers were pinned deep in their own territory at the 11-yard line. The Winhawk defense forced another three-and-out and took over at their own 45 after a 40-yard punt by Misoi.
The Winona offense then shifted into high gear as Nibbelink fired a quick screen to Mlynczak for 33 yards, and freshman tailback Dominick Davis rushed around right end for 19 more yards to put the ball at the Packer 3-yard line. Canne bulled into the end zone on the next play to cap off the three play, 55-yard drive and the score was 12-0 in favor of the Winhawks as the extra point by Cassellius was wide right.
Each side forced a three-and-out on the next two possessions, and it was the Packers taking over at their own 22 on what turned out to be their last possession of the half. Eli Johnson hit Ethan Owens on a fade for 25 yards for the biggest play of the half for Austin’s offense. Another first down pass to Colin Dahlback moved the Packers into Winhawk territory, but as they did all night long, the Winona defense quickly quelled any momentum the Packers had by forcing another punt and taking over on their own 10. The Winhawks drove into Packer territory with time running out in the half, but a sack by Austin ended the half with Winona ahead 12-0.
The Packers were looking to get off to a quick start in the second half as they received the opening kickoff, but an errant option pitch was recovered by Thomas Modjeski of the Winhawks at the Packer 18-yard line. Four plays later, it was Nibbelink executing a play-action fake, booting out of the pocket to his right and taking it into the end zone from four yards out to increase Winona’s lead to 19-0 after the extra point.
The Winhawk defense forced another three-and-out and after a short punt, Winona started the ensuing drive from their own 49. Colton Beier caught a screen pass and sprinted 15 yards on 4th and 12 for a first down, and on the 10th play of the drive, Nibblelink found Spencer Wright in the back of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown pass and a 25-0 lead after the extra point clanged off the left upright.
The Packers netted their most explosive running play of the night on their next drive when Andy Chesak broke through the right side of the line and sprinted 34 yards into Winona territory. Austin moved the ball as far as the 10-yard line, but on 4th and goal, Johnson was stopped at the 2-yard line and the Packers were turned away.
Winona then went on to ice the win with a marathon meat grinder of a drive, going 98 yards in 15 plays, capped off by a 10-yard touchdown run by Drew Meyer to make the score 31-0 after the extra point hit the right upright.
After a touchback, the Packers started their final drive of the night from their own 20 and backup quarterback Teyghan Hovland engineered a 15-play scoring drive, heaving the ball into the end zone with :05 left and finding Owens for a 13-yard touchdown and a 31-7 score after the extra point.
Winona piled up 22 first downs to 9 for the Packers, and the Winhawks tallied four sacks to one for Austin. Each team turned the ball over once, and the Packers had eight penalties for 74 yards, while Winona was penalized seven times for 54 yards.
The Packers fall to 2-3 on the season, and they are on the road next week for their final regular-season road game at Byron against the Bears. The Packers finish out the regular season with home games against Northfield in Week 7 and Albert Lea in Week 8.
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