Football: Showing love: Wingers welcome Austin in wake of student's death
A visit from Austin gave Red Wing a chance to bounce back from an ugly opening-week loss to New Prague. But the Wingers and Packers both had something else on their minds on Friday. Chris Fischer, a 14-year-old on the Austin football team, died Saturday, Sept. 2, due to complications from cardiac arrest.
Less than a week later, his Packer teammates had to find a way to move to 2-0 on the season. A couple of the Wingers heard about Fischer, and a group of them took action to help Austin feel some hometown vibes at Russ “Cougar” Marshall Field.
“It was late last night, and we had some confusion on whether it was going to be a neon-out or a black-out (for the student section). And I thought that with all the confusion, I'd thought it would be a good idea to support (Austin's) cause and their loss, and that would be a neat way to show a little love for them,” said Red Wing junior quarterback Marcus Walm.
Even moments prior to kickoff, Fischer was on the minds of everyone in uniform.
“Us captains talked a little bit,” Walm said. “Everyone thinks football is just a sport, but it's more. We're battling out here, going at each other, people are getting hurt. And it seems like we hate each other. But when you see a team in your conference going through that, it's more than just a sport.”
Said Austin’s Luke Hawkshead, “It's a real classy move by the Red Wing community and it's something that not a lot of peoople would think of. It shows what kind of people they are.”
Yet, there was a sport to play. And the Packers took every advantage of some Winger miscues to roll to a 43-8 victory.
Joe Seeman opened the scoring with 2 minutes, 30 seconds left in the first quarter, giving Austin a 7-0 lead. The Packers would extend that advantage to 14 with Andrew Schumacher's 6-yard touchdown pass to Gavin Owens with 5:25 to play in the first half.
Schumacher would then connect with Connor Byram with less than a minute to play in the first half for a three-score lead.
But the lead grew yet again when Schumacher and Byram hooked up again with four ticks left on the second-quarter clock.
Sam Kelly, who had 77 yards on eight carries, scored the Wingers’ lone touchdown on a 54-yard run in the third quarter, with Walm finding Seth Yeatman for the conversion. Mac DeSutter had 78 yards on 23 carries for Red Wing, and Walm finished 1-for-16 for seven yards, with his completion going to Yeatman. Walm and Jack Blee each had an interception on defense.
A Sam Hagan 15-yard run, a safety on a bad snap, and Peter Conner's 44-yard fumble return gave Austin its final 16 points.
It was another lopsided loss on the scoreboard, but Red Wing head coach Nate Freier is pleased with the direction his team is going.
“It's a huge step forward. We knew we were going to build brick by brick. And I'll tell you right now, what you saw at times is exactly the way I want Red Wing to play football,” Freier said. “We want to be downhill, hard-nosed, physical and playing our hearts out. We had a couple of bad breaks. The score doesn't necessarily reflect the level of competition that we brought to this contest.”
Every improvement is important for the Wingers, with Rochester Century coming to town next week. The first game showed the team what was coming, and hopefully Game 2 means more of the same.
“Getting out there and getting punched in the mouth, you think, 'This is for real,'” Freier said of last week. “We had a great week of practice, and these kids do not get down on themselves. This is a first-class group of kids that do not give up.”
And it was class that welcomed Austin on Friday, despite the animosity that a violent game like football can spawn. And to see what Walm and the rest of the team and students and community showed the Packers means more to Freier than most people know.
“It was really important for us to do that,” said Red Wing head coach Nate Freier. “Unfortunately, I went through a very similar situation in my coaching career, so I know exactly what Austin is going through. I talked to the coach and the AD about it earlier in the week. And if they need anything, not just tonight, but going forward, I'm there for them. Because it's a tough thing for any team, group of kids and community to go through. I really feel for them and hats off for them for competing tonight through a tragedy.”
Austin head coach Bret Vesel noticed the genuine gesture from Red Wing.
“That's pretty impressive on their coaching staff and their school to do that,” Vesel said. “Props to those guys, and they were outstanding.”