Tigers topple Austin in thriller

Published 8:26 am Thursday, October 16, 2008

Oh, what a way to close out the regular season.

The Albert Lea football team ended the regular season the way it started the season — with a win.

The Tigers (2-6, 1-6) scored with 3.6 seconds remaining when quarterback Cody Hansen rolled right, pumped once and found wide receiver Aaron Klatt along the right sideline and Klatt took two steps into the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown that gave Albert Lea a much deserved 27-20 win after controlling most of the game against the Packers.

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“It was a play that we set up during halftime,” Hansen said. “We thought it would work because they kept biting on our five route. So we just had Aaron run a five and I’d pump fake to make the safety break on the ball and then Aaron would just run up the field and I just made a good throw.”

It was the third consecutive victory for the Tigers against Austin after defeating the Packers in the regular season finale last season and then again in the first round of the section playoffs.

“For these kids they can probably put a feather in their cap because we aren’t favored in any game we play in,” Tigers head coach Clay Anderson said. “These guys have lost some close football games and to come out and play with them and be focused like we were I just give them a ton of credit. It’s great for them, it picks us up.”

Albert Lea lacked energy and focus against Century last week, but the Tigers were ready and dialed in against their rival Wednesday night.

“We just put our hearts on the field,” Hansen said. “We just left everything we got and got the victory.”

Albert Lea came out from the start and controlled the clock, putting together long, sustained drives. The Tigers had a 15 play drive to find their first touchdown, a Colton Zuniga run from 3 yards out that tied the game at 6-6 after the Packers (2-6, 1-6) scored in the first quarter.

Albert Lea had a nine play drive on its second score, a 4-yard touchdown reception by Jordan Holland that gave the Tigers a 14-6 lead at halftime.

Hector Rivera gave the team the running attack it had missed in its last three game as he finished with 109 yards. His ability to run opened up the passing game which really shined. Hansen finished 9-for-11 with 128 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Klatt was his main target as he had five catches for 91 yards and one touchdown.

The offensive line showed much improvement from last week and opened holes for Rivera and gave time to Hansen the majority of the game.

“I give credit to my line,” Rivera said of his performance. “Last week we weren’t there very well, but we just focused in practice and came out and played our game.”

Although Albert Lea controlled the majority of the first half, Austin came back in the second half and scored on the second play of the third quarter when quarterback T.J. Fritz ran 61 yards to tie the game at 14-14 in an instant.

Unperturbed Albert Lea went back to business, grinding away at the Packer defense with Hector Rivera running the ball. Rivera was rewarded when he scored from 7 yards out to give the Tigers a 20-14 lead.

Two possessions later Austin recovered an Albert Lea fumble at the Tigers 38-yard line with just over a minute remaining in the third quarter. The turnover led to a Packers touchdown when Marcus Gunderson hauled in a 5-yard pass from Fritz that tied the game at 20-20 with 8:54 remaining.

After the two teams had drives stall, Albert Lea took possession of the ball with 2:24 remaining in the game. The game looked destined for overtime, but the Tigers fumbled the ball and Austin recovered at the Albert Lea 35 with 1:20 left to play.

But just three plays later the Packers fumbled and Jordan Cooper recovered for the Tigers at the Austin 39 with 34.3 seconds to play.

Hansen orchestrated a strong drive that got started with him hitting Klatt on an out pattern to move the ball to the Packers 29-yard line. After an Albert Lea penalty, Hansen found Klatt again for a 9-yard gain that put the ball at the Austin 25-yard line. Then Hansen took the snap with 9.9 seconds remaining and threaded a pass to Klatt down the right sideline for the game winner.

It was a redeeming performance for Hansen who had struggled in previous games.

“That’s as good of a game that Cody Hansen’s ever played,” Anderson said. “I’m so happy for him because he’s had a tough three weeks.”

The Albert Lea defense held strong, despite being physically overmatched by the Packers offensive line. The Tigers allowed 174 total yards, 60 of which came on one play, and came up with stops when the team needed.

“Our defense stepped up and really handled a much bigger line,” Anderson said. “I just think it was a great effort by our kids.”

Albert Lea 27, Austin 20

Albert Lea – 0 14 6 7 – 27

Austin – 6 0 8 6 – 20

First Quarter

Austin – Jamal Gibson 3 pass from T.J. Fritz 7:54

Second Quarter

Albert Lea – Zuniga 3 run (kick failed) 11:55

Albert Lea – Jordan Holland 4 pass from Hansen :12

Third Quarter

Austin – Fritz 60 run 10:17

Albert Lea – Rivera 7 run (run failed) 6:01

Fourth Quarter

Austin – Gunderson 5 pass from Fritz (kick failed) 8:54

Albert Lea – Klatt 25 pass from Hansen (Cooper kick) 3.6

Total offense

Albert Lea – 323

Austin 174

Total rushing

Albert Lea – 95

Austin – 113

Total passing

Albert Lea – 128

Austin – 51