Austin stuns Mayo in overtime
AUSTIN — When Brett Vesel accepted the head football coaching position at Austin High School before the 2012 season, more than one person told him he was crazy.
"When I took the job, some wrestling guy said, 'You're stupid because you'll never beat Mayo,'" Vesel said. "So, whoever that dude was, we just beat Mayo."
That's correct, for the first time in nine years, the Austin High football team knocked off the Mayo Spartans 26-23 in overtime Saturday night at Art Hass Stadium.
The game originally was scheduled for Friday but was postponed due to lightning.
It was the first win for Austin over the Spartans since Oct. 8, 2004, when the Packers won 28-21 in Austin. That was almost nine years ago to the day.
It also was Austin's first win on its home field since Sept. 3, 2009. Friday night marked the first time any member of the current Packers won a game at Art Hass Stadium.
"First win on this field, and I got my first interception," said Austin senior Ajuda Nywesh, who broke up a key pass in overtime. "This feels great. We are still a young, rebuilding team, but we're just rolling right now."
For a program that has suffered eight consecutive losing seasons, the victory over Mayo signifies a colossal step in the right direction. Prior to this season, Austin had one just one game in its last three seasons combined.
"We won a game against a very good team and we played like garbage in the second half," Vesel said. "The team in previous years, maybe they don't overcome some of that stuff. It was awesome."
Mayo came into the game already hurting, and the Spartans left with a growing injury report. They played Saturday without star two-way player Tommy Fjelsted. Fellow standout running back Loren Lorang came into the game hobbled, but he gave it a go, only to be reinjured. QB Jay Alston also was injured during the game, but he did returned.
"We need to get healthy, and we had some key guys out," Mayo coach Donny Holcomb said. "But that's not an excuse either way. The guys know that. We expect to win with whoever we've got in there. ... We made our mistakes. But hats off to them, they beat the Mayo Spartans."
Austin received another big game from wide receiver Zach Wessels. He had 21 total catches in the two games leading up to Saturday and he grabbed seven passes for 99 yards and two touchdowns against the Spartans. Several of Wessels' catches were of the acrobatic, toe-dragging variety, including both of his touchdowns.
Wessels also kicked two field goals and both Austin extra points, along with handling the punting duties and playing safety in key situations.
"He's huge," Nywesh said. "Just huge. He comes out and makes big plays every week. He always shows up."
Nywesh wasn't short on big plays, either. He returned an interception to set up an Austin score. Nywesh also delivered in overtime, breaking up a potential touchdown to Matt Rogers in the end zone.
"Coach is always telling us we need to win our assignment every time, and I just happened to win that time," he said.
Austin took control of the game early, scoring the game's first 10 points. After a Mayo fumble on its first possession, Wessels kicked a 24-yard field goal to put the Packers in front.
After a partially blocked punt late in the first quarter, Wessels made it 10-0 with his 14-yard touchdown grab from QB Ryan Synoground.
Mayo finally got on the board with 3:48 remaining before halftime. After a Michael Michalek 23-yard grab put the Spartans in good field position, Alston broke free for a 27-yard touchdown run to make it 10-7.
But Nywesh's big interception set up another Austin score just before halftime, with Wessels this time pulling down a 13-yard Synoground pass to give the Packers a 17-7 edge.
Mayo looked like a different team in the second half, though. The Spartans finally started to slow down Austin running back Nate Conner, who rushed for 90 yards in the first half. Conner was held to negative yardage in the second half.
The Austin center struggled mightily to get the ball back to Synoground properly, especially in the second half. Countless high snaps forced Synoground to jump to snag the ball, and five snaps sailed out of his reach, leaving the Packers in long-yardage situations. In all, Austin fumbled the ball a whopping 10 times (mostly on bad snaps) and lost two fumbles.
"The guys came out of the locker room with the right mindset, ready to take over the second half," Holcomb said. "But we made our mistakes, and we didn't deserve to win."
Mayo owned the third quarter, scoring just over a minute in on Lorang's 3-yard run.
Zach Robertson's interception set up another score. Three plays letter, Alston found Rogers in the end zone. The extra point was no good, but Mayo held a 20-17 lead with 4:01 remaining in the third.
Austin marched twice in the fourth quarter, but the Spartans forced a fumble on one drive and held them to a field goal on the other. Wessels drilled a 23-yarder with 10:42 remaining to tie it.
The Spartans and Packers each had two more possessions, but they could not find the end zone.
Austin won the overtime coin toss, and went on defense to start extra session, which consisted of each team taking turns with four-down possessions starting at the 10-yard line.
After a short completion on first down, Alston was sacked on second down. Nywesh broke up a potential touchdown on the next play, and the Spartans settled for a 26-yard Brownell field goal.
On Austin's first play, Synoground broke free and appeared to cross into the end zone. But the linesman ruled him just short. On the next play, Synoground was stuffed and lost the ball momentarily. But, on third down, Synoground reached paydirt, giving the Packers a stunning victory.
Austin improved to 2-4 overall, while Mayo dropped to 4-2. The Packers finish with a road game at Albert Lea (0-6) and a home game against Mankato East (1-5), while Mayo gets Mankato West (5-1) and Winona (2-4).
Austin 26, Mayo 23 OT
Aust — Zach Wessels 24 field goal, 9:38. Drive: 8 plays, 45 yards, 1:59. Key play: Bret Lukes 19 pass from Ryan Synoground.
Aust — Wessels 14 pass from Synoground (Wessels kick), 4:52.Drive: 5 plays, 46 yards, :56. Key play: Nate Conner 30 run.
Mayo — Jay Alston 27 run (Jerry Brownell kick), 3:48.Drive: 10 plays, 83 yards, 4:48. Key play: Michael Michalek 23 pass from Alston.
Aust — Wessels 13 pass from Synoground (Wessels kick), :32.Drive: 1 play, 13 yards, :05. Key play: Interception and return by Ajuda Nywesh gave Austin ball at Mayo 13-yard line.
Mayo — Loren Lorang 3 run (Brownell kick), 10:53. Drive: 2 plays, 17 yards, :28. Key play: Short Austin punt gave Mayo ball at Austin 17-yard line.
Mayo — Matt Rogers 6 pass from Alston (kick failed), 4:01.Drive: 3 plays, 6 yards, 1:08. Key play: Zach Robertson interception and return gave Mayo ball at Austin 6-yard line
Aust — Wessels 23 field goal, 10:42. Drive: 8 plays, 24 yards, 1:48. Key play: Wessels 14 pass from Synoground on fourth down.
Mayo — Brownell 26 field goal. Drive: 3 plays, 0 yards. Key play: Austin sacked Alston on second down, forced incompletion on third.
Aust — Synoground 1 run (kick not attempted).Drive: 3 plays, 10 yards. Key play: Synoground 9 run on first down.
Total net yards#195#290
Mayo — Loren Lorang 19-60; Jay Alston 5-6; Jacob Marris 7-19; Andrew Desorcie 1-1; Jake Bergan 1-3. Austin — Ryan Synoground 19-39; Nate Conner 19-89; Cory Hepler 3-18.
Mayo — Jay Alston 15-29-1-106-1. Austin —Ryan Synoground 13-30-1-144-2.
Mayo — Matt Rogers 8-45; Michael Michalek 5-57; Andrew Desorcie 1-(-6); Zach Robertson 1-10. Austin —Bret Lukes 2-27; Nik Gasner 4-18; Zach Wessels 7-99.