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Close out of the gates: Packers fall to Winona in season opener

WINONA — The Austin football team had plenty of chances, but it couldn’t finish the job, losing its season opener to Winona 14-9 in Paul Giel Field Friday night.

After having a touchdown called off due to an illegal shift penalty that would have tied the game, the Packers came up empty from the Winona 11-yard line when Teyghan Hovland, who had 184 yards passing, threw an incomplete pass with 10:38 left in the game. The Winhawks gave Austin a chance when they had a bad snap that resulted in a safety, but Winona stopped Austin’s ensuing drive when Trent Lagowski picked off a pass at the Winona 20-yard line.

“They’re kids and they have emotions. To get that taken off the board obviously hurt, but it’s nothing to hang our heads about. We’re going to keep pushing and put them in position to win games,” Austin head coach Ed Schmitt said. “We missed some things here or there and we missed some reads. There were some wrong things going on, but those are things we can fix.”

The Austin defense held the Winhawks (1-0 overall) in check for most of the night, but Winona quarterback Jacob Heftman had a pair of scoring tosses that went for over 50 yards, including a 53-yarder to Lagowski. Heftman escaped pressure and found Lagowski for the deep score on third and eight to make it 14-7 early in the third quarter.

Austin senior Ethan Owens spearheaded Austin’s front line on defense as he finished with a sack and a pair of pass deflections.

“I’m really happy with how we played on defense, but I’m disappointed that we couldn’t finish the game out. We’re going to bounce back next week and we’re going to finish strong,” Owens said. “It felt great to be with my brothers again and playing the game I love. We don’t love the loss, but we’ve got some things to work on and we’re going to come back strong.”

The Packer defense has some young players, who will likely improve throughout the season.

“We’re young back there and we’ve got a couple of guys back there playing for the first time,” Schmitt said. “These are coachable kids and we’ll watch the film over the weekend, coach them up and move on.”

The Packers (0-1 overall) came out swinging on their first offensive possession as Hovland connected with Southland transfer Novell Jackson for gains of 42 and 10 yards to set up an eight-yard TD run by Tommy Fritz on an end around. That score made it 7-0 Austin, but the Winhawks answered quickly when Heftman found Ben Rustad for a 64-yard TD to tie things up at 7-7 with 4:13 left in the first.

Each team produced one more first half drive into their opponent’s territory, but both of those surges ended in turnovers.

SCORING SUMMARY

Austin 7 0 0 2 –  9

Winona 7 0 7 0 –  14

First quarter

(A) Tommy Fritz 8 run (Joe Ewing kick) (6 plays, 62 yards) 5:39

(W) Ben Rustad 64 pass from Jacob Heftman (Bryan Cassellius kick) 4:13

Second quarter

No scoring

Third quarter

(W) Trent Langowski 53 pass from Jacob Heftman (Casselius kick) 7:05

Fourth quarter

(A) safety 10:21

AUSTIN STATS

Rushing: Joseph Walker, 15-for-50; Tommy Fritz, 3-for-14, TD; Teyghan Hovland, 10-for-15

Passing: Hovland, 11-for-24, 184, 2 INT

Receiving: Novell Jackson, 4-for-69; Fritz, 2-for-40; Ethan Owens, 2-for-38; Gage Manahan, 2-for-33; Walker, 1-for-7

Defense: Ian Caruso, 1 sack; Ethan Owens, 1 sack; Ben Olson, 1 fumble recovery

Penalties: 6-for-45

WINONA STATS

Rushing: 93

Passing: 151

Penalties: 4-for-30