Packers look to rebound against Century
Austin High football coach Brett Vesel is definitely not a fan of homecoming week.
Vesel learned firsthand last week just how big homecoming is in Austin. He also saw it took the focus off everything other than the football game Friday night.
Vesel said that lack of focus led to the ugliness he witnessed on the field against Rochester Mayo in a 42-14 blowout loss.
"I've never seen anything like it," Vesel said. "Our entire team didn't do a good job of staying focused during homecoming week. We had won the week before, but I just didn't realize how big of a deal homecoming is here. I've never been at a school where it's been this big a deal. It seems like the kids' focus was on anything but football. But the kids are back now. We've had a couple good practices this week, so it seems like we're back focused on football."
That focus will be important as the Packers hit the road for a winnable game against Rochester Century (2-3).
The football program at Century is struggling with numbers. Participation numbers are at an all-time low, and the Panthers have struggled against the Big Nine Conference's better teams. Their two wins are against Albert Lea and Mankato East, with losses against John Marshall, Mayo and Owatonna.
The Panthers struggled to beat East (29-27), though they were starting a new quarterback in Jacob Roth.
But the running game is Century's bread and butter. They do most of that with stud running back Alex Crawford, who is one of the Big Nine's best players. Crawford leads the Big Nine in rushing with 924 yards. He's averaging 5.8 yards per carry and has eight touchdowns.
"Century has a very nice running game, and he's a really nice running back," Vesel said. "They haven't won a lot of games yet, but I'm sure they're looking at this game the way we are. It's a winnable game for them. I'm sure we'll see their best."
Century's offense runs mostly through Crawford. He's not the fastest running back in the league or the shiftiest, but Crawford does everything well, Vesel said. He's also tough to tackle.
"He breaks a lot of tackles, so we'll need to make that a big focus," Vesel said. "We need to run to the ball well and bring him down. He's got some decent linemen in front of him, too. He's a good-sized kid, so we need to make sure he's not getting yards after first contact."
With a sophomore quarterback starting, the Panthers struggled last week to throw the ball against East. Vesel said it's important to get after any quarterback, especially a young one.
"Any quarterback who's sitting back there with no pressure is going to beat you, so we have to put some pressure on him," Vesel said.
On defense, the Panthers will run out of 3-3 and 3-5 sets. It's a defensive look the Packers haven't seen since the opening week against Red Wing.
Century blitzes often and sends its linebackers in open gaps well, Vesel said.
"In the Red Wing game, they hadn't shown that defense but they jumped to it all the time," Vesel said. "We weren't prepared for that. We'll be more prepared this time."
The offensive line has taken a great deal of heat this season, and Vesel said that unit still must improve greatly.
"We looked at last week's tape, and we just saw a lot of guys not blocking the right person at the right time," Vesel said. "We're still learning. I don't think it's all physical. But we have to be better, a lot better."
Austin came out of the Mayo game healthy again, Vesel said. "We've been pretty lucky in that case. Everyone has a few dings at this point in the season, but I think we will have everybody ready to go."
One thing Vesel will look at this week is his team's running game. He was extremely frustrated with the lack of running yardage last week. It's an area that must improve if the Packers are going to be competitive in the Big Nine, Vesel said.
"We don't feel like it's the scheme that's not getting it done, we just need start blocking the right people," Vesel said. "We did some things better in the East game, but we struggled a lot last week. We had trouble getting our blocks. It has to be better for us to run the ball. So we're working on that hard this week."
Vesel said he's excited homecoming week is over. "You can see we're back mentally, and we'll be ready for Friday night," he said.