Austin defense struggles again as losing streak continues
Austin High football coach Brett Vesel thought his team's defense would be a strength heading into the 2012 season.
Through two games, that certainly hasn't been the case.
The Packers defense was thrashed again Friday night, allowing 50 points in the first half, including 34 in the second quarter alone, in a 56-23 Big Nine Conference loss to Mankato West at Art Hass Field.
Big plays killed the Packers. West scored a total of eight touchdowns, and seven of them came on drives of three plays or fewer.
"We gave up 57, that's no good," Vesel said. "We can't give up those vertical routes; it's just unacceptable. We obviously had some breakdowns in the passing game."
The bright spot Friday was the offense. Junior quarterback Ryan Synoground came off the bench to spark the Packers, while freshman Nate Connor got the start at running back and played a solid game, too.
Synoground finished with 221 yards passing and three touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions, but it was his first significant varsity action. Two of Synoground's touchdown passes came in the first half, against West's starters.
"We executed in some areas, but we still made some mental mistakes; we have room to improve," Synoground said.
Synoground seems to have found a couple of favorite targets, too. Sophomore Nik Gasner has eight catches for 111 yards, while senior Marcus Stoulil had five catches for 112 yards. Both had touchdown grabs, and Gabe Kasak had the other scoring catch.
"Offensively, we had a few turnovers, but we really put together some solid drives," Gasner said. "It's something to build off of for next week. Yeah, we made mistakes, but we're still learning this offense."
Believe it or not, Austin trailed just 23-16 at one point in the second quarter. But the game turned in West's favor in a hurry.
With 7:56 remaining in the second, Synoground tossed a 58-yard touchdown to Stoulil. After Synoground ran in the two-point conversion, West led just 23-16.
But the Scarlets scored the next four times they touched the ball, each time scoring on three plays or fewer. Four straight touchdowns gave the Scarlets a 50-16 halftime lead.
"We were pretty down at the end of the first half," Gasner said. "It was a tough way to go into the locker room. But we came out just wanting to win the second half."
Gasner caught Austin's final touchdown on a 40-yard bomb from Synoground with 4:06 left in the game. Synoground made a perfect pump fake and then dropped the ball into Gasner's arms in stride.
"Nik made some nice catches for me," Synoground said.
West played without starting quarterback Ryan Schlichte. But backups Derek Frentz and Josh Athey were outstanding.
Frentz rushed for 95 yards and three touchdowns and threw for 179 yards and two scores. Athey threw for a score and ran for one.
West finished with 393 yards of total offense, while the Packers had 290.
Connor led Austin's ground game, carrying 15 times for 62 yards.
Austin struggled with turnovers. The Packers threw a total of four interceptions (Synoground 2, Coffey 1, Zach Nelson 1) and lost a pair of fumbles.
The loss extends Austin's losing streak to 21 games. It's the third-longest losing streak in the state.
Austin returns to action Friday at home against Faribault.