One team will no longer be winless

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 26, 2002

Four football teams in the Big Nine Conference set at 0-4 heading into Friday night, and Austin and Winona are two of them.

Both teams have gone half of the regular season without a win, setting the stage for a lot of friction on the gridiron this week.

The Packers and Winhawks have lost to three common opponents -- Faribault, Rochester Mayo and Mankato East -- and Austin's margin of defeat is slimmer than Winona's. But that's on paper. AHS coach Steve Knox is more concerned with on the field.

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"Our players know that we cannot afford to let down for anyone this season," Knox said. "We have played four very good teams and we have played them very well, but we need to play as well if not better against Winona."

Austin, at nine points per game, is the second-lowest scoring team in the Big Nine. Winona has allowed 43 points per game, also second-worst in the league. Albert Lea (7 PF/52 PA) is last in both categories.

"Right now we're on the edge," Knox said. "We know that our offense just needs to step it up a little more.

"We need to find a way to move the ball. We're not going to throw it up in the air and see who comes down with it. We'll see which one Winona will allows us to do, and that boils down to being what we decide to do."

The interior of Austin's offense has been the focus of practice this week. Tucker Schieck will get his second start at quarterback for the Packers, and the ball-carriers in the backfield remain the same. Mark Cavanaugh, Ray Bissen and Mike Gravelle will have those duties.

The offensive line, however, has received the attention. The starting lineup of five seniors is surprisingly inexperienced, but the Packers' front five has come together as a unit with the understanding that teamwork is the only way for Austin to move the ball.

"We have a bunch of seniors trying to work hard so that they're working together," Knox said. "We've had some success moving the ball into the red zone situations, but we need to find a way to take it from that red zone one step further.

"We've definitely been wanting the victory. We've done a lot of good things, but the hardest part is finding a way in our second half to put some points on the board."

Owatonna prevented the Packers from scoring in three possessions inside the 20-yard-line in last week's 14-0 Austin loss. In the first week of the season, the Pack fumbled twice inside the Faribault 5-yard-line.

"If your defense can play well and hold them down, you need a touchdown," Knox summarized.

Winona has scored an average of 15 points per game, led by a returning starter at quarterback in Andy Gappa. The Winhawks have shown a number of different formations on both sides of the ball, and Coach Knox anticipates seeing Winona's shotgun offense on Friday night at 7 p.m.

Call Ross Thede at 434-2234 or e-mail him at