Packer football team is ready for its match-up with top-seeded Owatonna

Published 5:39 pm Thursday, October 24, 2013

Austin quarterback Ryan Synoground looks to pitch the ball on an option in the second quarter of their Section 1AAAAA playoff game against Faribault in Faribault. Eric Johnson/

Austin quarterback Ryan Synoground looks to pitch the ball on an option in the second quarter of their Section 1AAAAA playoff game against Faribault Tuesday. Herald File Photo

A little confidence can go a long ways.

In past years, if the Packer football team knew it had to play Owatonna in a playoff game, it probably wouldn’t be too excited. Austin may have even been a little intimidated.

This year the Packers (5-4 overall), who are coming off a 42-7 win over Fariabult, are looking forward to playing at top-seeded Owatonna (8-0 overall) in the Section 1AAAAA semifinals Saturday at 7 p.m.

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“We’re pumped. We think we’ve got a shot at winning this game,” Austin senior receiver Zach Wessels said. “We’re going into practice thinking we have a chance at a ‘W.'”

The No. 5 seeded Packers are riding a four-game winning streak and they’ve won five of their last six contests. Their lone loss in that stretch was a 49-26 loss to the Huskies Sept. 27.

The Packers feel they’re a better team now than they were when they lost to Owatonna and the team has gained confidence with each of its wins this season.

Austin center Andrew Hagan, who has been on the varsity squad since he was a freshman, said the team’s attitude has reached new heights.

Hagan was a part of two winless teams and a two-win team last year and he’s enjoyed the winning the team has done this year.

“The biggest change is that the team has a lot more confidence in ourselves,” Hagan said. “We go out every game expecting to win and we play every play like it’s our last. The attitude has changed quite a bit since I was a freshman.”

Wessels wasn’t on the football team last season as he focused on earning a full-ride basketball scholarship at Division II University of Sioux Falls, but he’s glad how things have turned out this fall.

“I thought we’d be good, but not like this. We’re doing very good. I’m not shocked, but I’m pretty impressed by it,” Wessels said. “Our leadership has been pretty good and all of the seniors have stepped up and been vocal leaders.”

Wessels’ arrival meant a reduced role for Austin junior wide receiver Nik Gasner, who was one of the top receivers for the Packers as a sophomore. This year Gansner has seen the ball less, but he’s had a lot more fun on game nights.

“Sometimes it can be frustrating not getting the ball as much, but it’s fun to watch guys like Wess and Bret (Lukes) make plays out there,” Gasner said. “I’d rather not get the ball and win and do what we’re doing right now than to get the ball and lose every game.”

The Packers will definitely be underdogs when they head to Owatonna on Friday as the Huskies have outscored their opponents on an average of 39.9-10.1 points per game and they took second place in the Class ‘AAAAA’ state football tournament last season.

But don’t expect Austin to roll over with its season on the line.

“Everybody competes no matter what the score is and that’s because of our leadership,” Gasner said. “If we go every play as hard as we can, it’ll be a competitive game.”