Friday’s AL vs. Austin game could be last meeting for several years

Published 10:29 am Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Packers defense celebrate after recovering a fumble in the second quarter last season against Albert Lea in Albert Lea. Herald file photo

The Packers defense celebrate after recovering a fumble in the second quarter last season against Albert Lea in Albert Lea. Herald file photo

When Austin assistant coach Jesse Dunlap was a linebacker for the Packer football team in the early 1990s, nothing was more important to him than beating rival Albert Lea.

Now as a coach, Dunlap feels exactly the same way.

“This is one of the biggest games that I think you can play,” he said. “We knew a lot of them, but when you played against them, you always want to beat your closest friends the worst.”

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But when the Austin and Albert Lea football teams face off in Albert Lea’s Hammer Field at 7 p.m. Friday, it could be the last meeting between the two in a long time. Next season, district scheduling sets in, and Albert Lea will be the only Big Nine team that isn’t in Austin’s district.

Starting in fall 2015, the state’s schools will be divided into 18 districts, which were announced in June. Football teams will no longer play a conference schedule. They will instead play a district schedule during the regular season, and they’ll face the same district teams in the postseason.

meetingsThe Austin Packers are in the 12-team Big Southeast District. The Albert Lea Tigers are not. The Big Southeast includes every Big Nine Conference team besides Albert Lea, which was replaced by New Prague.

Last season, Austin snapped a seven-game losing skid to the Tigers, and the Packers are hoping they can beat Albert Lea again this Friday. Dunlap expects both squads to be fired up for the contest.

“They want to beat us really bad, and we want to beat them really bad,” he said. “Their parents tell them stories about beating Austin, and our parents tell their kids stories about beating Albert Lea.”

Austin head coach Brett Vesel is new to the Austin-AL rivalry as this is his third year with the Packers. But he’s heard enough from the community and his players to know that this is a big game.

“I haven’t experienced the rivalry like some people have in this town,” Vesel said. “I’ve heard about it and talked to some of the coaches about it. This is the game. It’s an important game no matter which way you spin it.”

Austin senior lineman Logan Hotek said the Packers know this is their last chance at Albert Lea on the football field, and they’re hoping to make it count.bigdistrict

“They’re our biggest rival. You just want to go in there and dominate them,” he said. “We know it’s not going to be easy because they run a different offense than anyone else we’ll see. We’re going to go in there and have fun. It’s the last time, it’s extremely important, and we want that ‘W’ so bad.”

Austin could still drop a district game to play the Tigers in the coming years, but that may not happen and the Packer-Tiger rivalry come to an end on the football field.

In two years, the districts will be re-aligned and Albert Lea could be moved to the Big Southeast District, but there’s no guarantee that will happen.