Packers miss out on opportunity

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 28, 2002

Even with the momentum and every opportunity, Austin could not pick up a win.

The Packer football team seemed to have the ball rolling in the right direction with time winding down and a 7-6 lead over winless Winona, but the Winhawks found an opening -- and quarterback Andy Gappa exploited it.

The end result was a 69-yard touchdown drive that lasted less than two minutes, leaving Austin at 0-5 overall and in the Big Nine Conference with a 14-7 Winona triumph Friday night at Wescott Field.

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"It's a little hard to swallow when they march right down and score," said Austin coach Steve Knox.

James Dammen's 8-yard touchdown run capped a 49-yard drive for Austin with 5:34 to play, and Evan Sorenson's extra-point kick sailed true through the center of the goal posts for the Packers' 7-6 lead.

"It was looking good," Dammen said. "We really started driving the ball. Our second halves this year have been pretty unsuccessful, but in the second half tonight we really came out and came after it hard."

But so did Winona.

The Winhawks used 1:56 to answer Austin's first touchdown in two games -- and first lead since the opening week of the season -- as Gappa drove Winona down the field through the air. Gappa was 3-for-3, connecting twice with tight end Matt Pflughoeft for 46 yards, and running back Brent Stinson finished off the drive with an 8-yard touchdown run.

Stinson hauled in the two-point conversion pass from Gappa to give the Winhawks the 14-7 lead and eventual victory.

"We've been waiting for a breakout game, everything clicked," said Winona coach Steve Willman. "We made the big plays when we needed to.

"The weight of the world is now off our shoulders."

Creating their own breaks

The Packer defense did its job of providing the offense with the ball, forcing a missed field goal and back-to-back turnovers from Winona's offense to start the second half.

The Winhawks tried to consume time off the clock with its bootlegging shotgun offense, but the Packer defense disrupted it as Derek Hall broke into the backfield and forced a bad option pitch by Gappa. Jesse Krueger pounced on the loose ball along the sideline to end the third quarter with Austin gaining a burst of momentum.

Hall caught Gappa by the back of his shoulder pads and pulled the Winona quarterback to the ground as he went to flip the ball to his flanking tailback.

Austin was unable to convert its decent field position, but the Packer defense gave them another chance soon after. Stinson was forced to fumble on Winona's first play after an Austin punt, and Nate Johnson pulled the ball out of the pile to start the Packers on their way to a touchdown.

Austin derived a new attack for the drive that ended in a score for the first time since Week 3, showing a pair of different offensive formations that allowed the Packer running attack to get through a disheartened Winona defense. Eight positive runs and a pair of Winhawk penalties provided the Pack with the go-ahead touchdown on Dammen's sprawling effort at the goalline.

"I was going and I felt my ankles get wrapped up, and I just reached as far as I could," Dammen said. "We really found some plays to punch it in."

Keeping the drive alive

After Gappa guided Winona back down the field to regain the lead, Austin fired back behind a wishbone formation seen only in goalline packages for the Packer offense. Quarterback Tucker Schieck completed three consecutive pass attempts to Matt Ball, Dammen and Mark Cavanaugh to move to the Winona 25-yard-line.

The Winhawks called a time out to adjust to Austin's newfound success throwing the ball, and four straight incomplete passes ended the attack.

"I thought the line did a great job blocking, and the guys were out there and they were catching it," Schieck said.

Winona adjusted to stop Austin's sideline routes, and the Packers nearly completed the comeback on a pass intended for Ball along the goalline.

"I just didn't get it out there far enough," Schieck said.

"The defense did a nice job of getting the ball back to us," Coach Knox said. "And the offense took advantage of it.

"What we needed was one big catch. We had some open guys, it's just a matter of getting the ball directly in their hands."

Schieck finished 5-for-15 for 56 yards, while Gappa tore up Austin's secondary for 11-for-17 and 183 yards. Gappa hit Gary Hagen for a 21-yard touchdown pass with 3:08 to play in the first quarter, and Winona held the lead until the final period.

Running through an open door

Dammen rushed 11 times for 40 yards and Austin's sixth touchdown in five games this season. He started in place of Ray Bissen, who is likely out for the remainder of the 2002 campaign after breaking his hand during the week.

"James has been wanting to get into that backfield, and he did a nice job of complementing the other running backs very well," Coach Knox said. "We're fortunate that we still have some good running backs."

Cavanaugh led the Packer backs with 58 yards rushing on 16 attempts. Stinson led Winona with 80 yards and a touchdown, while Gappa scrambled for 53 yards.

The Winhawks doubled Austin in total offense, 365-180.

Still winless

Austin is now one of three winless teams in the Big Nine. The Packers meet both of them in the next two weeks. Rochester Century hosts AHS Friday at 7 p.m., and the Packers entertain Albert Lea for homecoming Oct. 11 at Wescott Field.

"It really is frustrating because our team tries so hard in practice," Schieck said. "We've just got to go that extra mile, work harder, keep it up and keep our heads up. The guys are giving it their all."

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