Packers hope to ride momentum
At first glance, a 60-26 loss might look like a disappointing blowout. But for the first time all season, the Austin High football team felt good about its performance after last week's setback against Winona.
That's mainly owing to the fact that the Packers finally moved the ball with some consistency in the second half. They more than doubled their scoring output for the entire season and set offensive highs in almost every statistical category.
The Packers hope to ride the momentum they built in the second half against Winona into Wednesday's showdown at Albert Lea.
The Tigers are just 2-5 this season and have lost five consecutive games. However, Austin coach Matt Schmit said that record is deceiving.
The Tigers have been in almost every game this season and have pushed some of the Big Nine Conference's top teams to the limit. They were within two scores of Rochester Century, Rochester Mayo and Owatonna.
"(Albert Lea coach Clay Anderson) has had a few years to put in that system now, and the kids have seen it and are comfortable with it," Schmit said. "I haven't seen them on the field, so I can't compare them to past teams. But they've continually gotten better. The kids know the system, they know who they are, and they're a good team."
Albert Lea's offense is dictated by a power running game.
"They line and run it right at you," Schmit said. "They've been doing that for years, and they do it well. They make very few mistakes, and it's difficult to stop that."
On defense, the Tigers run out of a 3-5 set. But Schmit said they bring two linebackers up to the line of scrimmage on almost every play.
"They're a 3-5 team, but it looks like a 5-2," he said. "They'll walk those linebackers down. There are three down linemen, and then two standup ends there, and the other two linebackers cover over the top. They look to bring that constant pressure."
Last week the Packers finally found some success throwing the football behind the arm of Josh Hart. But Schmit said the team will continue to use both Hart and Blas Estrada.
"I told Josh after the game, and it was the same thing I told him the day before, and that's that I'm going to continue to play both of you," Schmit said. "Josh played a great game. But I need to stick with the hot hand. Josh certainly took a giant step forward last week, but Blas is a great athlete, too, and if he cuts down on the mistakes, which he did last week, he can help us, too."
The Packers also received added offense from Anthony Condit. He's one of the team's best defensive players from his linebacker spot and one of the Big Nine's best punters. But last week, Condit came in as a fullback and churned out the Packers' highest rushing total of the season.
"He's a great athlete," Schmit said. "He does very well for us. He's got a lot of heart. He probably needed to come out of the game and I know he was tired, but he felt his team needed him in there, so he didn't want to come out. He almost had 100 yards rushing, and that's big for us. It's like I said at the beginning of the year, he's a great athlete, and we're going to try to keep our best athletes on the field as much as we can."
The Packers definitely cannot turn the ball over like they did last week if they hope to compete with Albert Lea. Austin (0-7, 0-6) had seven turnovers against Winona, including lost fumbles the first three times they touched the ball.
"We took a step in the right direction last week, and we hope to keep going that way and keep watching the kids improve," Schmit said.
Game time is 7 p.m. Wednesday in Albert Lea.