Century running back proves too much for Austin
By Ben Pherson
Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
The Rochester Century football team has a dynamic running back in Leon Clark.
Every player who suited up for the Austin High Packers on Friday night at Art Hass Stadium was well aware of Clark’s game-breaking ability.
And yet there was very little any of them could do to slow Clark.
The senior standout rushed for 263 yards and four touchdowns, leading the Panthers to a 42-21 Big Nine Conference victory over the Packers.
During one stretch in the first quarter, Clark scored on three consecutive carries.
"With a player that talented, all you can do is try your best," Austin senior Will Hagan said.
Clark was aided by a dominating offensive line.
"Our first two games, we weren’t really clicking on all cylinders," Century coach Jon Vik said. "This game it started to come together. We know what we have in a player like Leon, someone who can be very good if the other players on the field take care of their jobs."
Century dominated both sides of the ball in the first half. The Packers did not pick up a first down until eight minutes remained in the first half. They had only four first downs in the entire first half, all of which came on the same drive.
For the second consecutive game, the Packers ground game was non-existent. The Packers rushed 21 times for 12 yards.
"I’m really frustrated that our running game didn’t work," Austin coach Tim Hermann said. "It’s something we really worked on, and I thought we’d have some success there. But we got nothing. They were all over us; they shut us down. I guess maybe we’re more of a passing team than we thought or wanted to be."
Century’s defensive line and linebackers were in the Austin backfield for much of the game. The Panthers’ 3-5 defense presented myriad problems.
"With that defense, they’re pretty much blitzing different people every play," Hagan said. "It was tough because I know Nate (Justice) didn’t have a lot of time."
The Packers trailed 29-0 at halftime, with Clark scoring three of the four Century touchdowns.
Austin played much better in the second half, but most of the improved play came against Century’s second-team defense.
Still, the team found a positive in its ability to move the ball through the air in the second half.
"We just really didn’t hang our heads. We weren’t going to just roll over and give up," Hagan said. "We all kept giving everything until the very end. I was really proud of the offense."
Justice played well at times, especially when he was given time to throw. He finished with 233 yards on 21-of-33 passing. Justice tossed three touchdowns and had one interception.
All three Justice touchdown passes were caught by Marcus Gunderson, who now has six touchdowns receptions this season.
Gunderson caught touchdown grabs of 30, 36 and 20 yards in the second half. He finished with eight catches for 137 yards, both career highs.
"Nate and Marcus are getting more comfortable with each other, and I think Nate likes the way Marcus runs his routes," Hermann said. "But it’s nothing drawn up for Marcus; Nate is finding other receivers, too. For a while, he got it going again with (John) Maxfield, too, and that was out of the same play."
Justice did spread the ball around, completing passes to six different receivers. Maxfield finished with five catches for 39 yards, and Hagan had four grabs for 36 yards.
Ryan Duren was Austin’s top running back with eight carries for 12 yards.
"It’s disappointing to lose, but I’m proud that the kids didn’t give up. This was definitely a learning experience for us; we learned a lot about the team, and I think the kids learned a lot," Hermann said.
The Packers (1-2, 0-2 in the Big Nine) are back in action Friday at home against Winona, which was shut out by Rochester John Marshall on Friday.