High School Football: Austin rolls to quarterfinal victory at Faribault
FARIBAULT — For the last decade, when the Austin High football team saw running time in the fourth quarter, it usually meant the Packers were down by five touchdowns or more.
Well, these aren't the Packers of the past decade.
Tuesday night during Austin's Section One, Class AAAAA first-round game against No. 4 seed Faribault, the Packers were the underdog in seed only. On the scoreboard, the Packers were clearly the better team, rolling to a 42-7 victory at Bruce Smith Field.
It was Austin's first playoff win since 2009, when it downed Winona 18-13 in the opening round. That season also was the last time the Packers had running time in the final quarter of a game because they were up by five touchdowns (vs. Red Wing).
The Packers have now won four consecutive games and five of their past six. They are the hottest team in the section, minus the top dogs from Owatonna. That is, of course, who awaits the Packers in the Section 1AAAAA semifinals at 7 p.m. Saturday. The Huskies are the top seed and the unbeaten No. 1 team in the state.
It's a daunting task, for sure. But these Packers aren't backing down, even if they are the clear underdogs.
"We've worked very hard and we will keep working hard this week," said Austin senior quarterback, Nate Synoground, who threw for 191 yards and three touchdowns Tuesday. "Owatonna, we scored some points against them. I think the thing is we have gotten better every week. We will need to be even better to beat them. But we have a lot of confidence right now."
The Packers will take some pleasure in knowing they scored more points (26) against the Huskies than any other team this season in their 49-26 loss on Sept. 27. In that game, Owatonna running back Aaron Peterson ran wild, scoring five touchdowns.
"We have confidence, and it showed (Tuesday)," said Austin senior defensive back Ajuda Nywesh, who paced the defense with two interceptions against the Falcons. "Owatonna is a great team. But we like how we're playing. We can do better, though. We will need to be (against Owatonna)."
The Packers defense was stellar for the second consecutive game. Austin was gashed for 178 yards rushing by Joe Hoisington in the first meeting. Most of his damage came straight up the middle on belly runs and traps.
But the Austin defensive line held its ground and limited Hoisington's big runs Tuesday. They forced him outside, and even there, he didn't find much success. Hoisington did finish with 106 yards, but he needed 26 carries to do it.
"I thought both of our lines played their best games of the season," Austin coach Brett Vesel said. "They were great. We keep improving. At the end of the season, each game has been better and better."
On offense, the Packers had great balance in rushing for 186 yards and passing for 191. That's the type of balance Vesel has coveted all season.
"We mixed it up," Vesel said.
Bret Lukes was the offensive star. He had five catches for 129 yards, including a pair of touchdowns. Lukes also rushed three times for 32 yards.
"We don't care who it is having the big plays, but (Tuesday) it was Bret," Vesel said.
Nate Conner was stellar again, too. He finished with 115 yards rushing on just 13 carries. He also scored a pair of touchdowns.
Synoground was efficient for the second consecutive week. He completed 11 of 16 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.
"Nate is making the plays, making better reads," Vesel said. "He played well again."
Cory Hepler started the Austin scoring, taking one in from 2 yards out at the 4:36 mark of the first. Faribault answered back with a score early in the second, but the Packers dominated the rest of the quarter.
Synoground got hot, firing a 16-yard scoring strike to Zach Wessels and then finding Lukes for a 65-yard score with 4:05 left before halftime.
Nywesh's big interception set up the final score. With just 22 seconds remaining, Synoground hit Lukes for a 28-yard score, giving Austin a 28-7 halftime lead.
Conner took over in the second half, scoring from 23 yards out in the third quarter and 5 yards out in the fourth to complete the blowout.
"Man, this feels so great," Nywesh said. "I can't even put it into words. We've been (on the wrong end) of games like this. But it feels great to get our first playoff win in years and do it like this."
The Packers' victory also ensures they will finish at .500 or better for the first time since 2004. They head to Owatonna at 5-4 overall.
Austin 42, Faribault 7
Aust — Cory Hepler 2 run (Zach Wessels kick), 4:36. Drive: 8 plays, 60 yards, 2:41. Key play: Zach Wessels 18 pass from Ryan Synoground.
Fari — Mitch Nagel 6 pass from Danny Ehlers (Andy Swanson kick), 11:17Drive: 8 plays, 51 yards, 3:05. Key play: Scoring play came on fourth down.
Aust — Zach Wessels 16 pass from Ryan Synoground (Wessels kick), 9:35.Drive: 4 plays, 30 yards, 1:30. Key play: Nate Conner 50-yard kickoff return set up scoring drive.
Aust — Bret Lukes 65 pass from Synoground (Wessels kick), 4:05. Drive: 4 plays, 80 yards, 1:25. Key play: Scoring play.
Aust — Lukes 28 pass from Synoground (Wessels kick), :22.Drive: 2 plays, 40 yards, :12. Key play: Ajuda Nywesh interception gave Packers ball at Faribault 40-yard line.
Aust — Nate Conner 23 run (Wessels kick), 6:50. Drive: 6 plays, 60 yards, 1:52. Key play: Scoring play.
Aust — Conner 5 run (Wessels kick), 11:16. Drive: 6 plays, 39 yards, 1:21. Key play: Lukes 26 pass from Synoground.
Total net yards#377#212
Austin — Ryan Synoground 11-4; Nate Conner 13-115; Cory Hepler 7-21; Bret Lukes 3-32; Brandon Edgar 3-22; Zach Laffey 1-(-8). Faribault —Joe Hoisington 26-106; Danny Ehlers 6-(-19); Mitch Nagel 11-64; Joe Miller 3-7; Dylan Lombard 1-15; Nathan Worrall 1-(-4); Ryan Donkers 1-4.
Austin — Ryan Synoground 11-16-1-191-3. Faribault —Danny Ehlers 5-17-2-39-1; Kade Hart 0-2-0-0-0.
Austin — Bret Lukes 5-129; Nik Gasner 3-17; Zach Wessels 3-46. Faribault —Mitch Nagel 1-6; Nash Bauer 3-33; Joe Miller 1-0.