FAIRMONT - Marshall gridiron mentor Terry Bahlmann appreciates the fact that both Tanner Cirks and Colton Citrowske opted to trade their soccer cleats for football spikes a couple of years ago.
Citrowske, a 5-foot-10, 225-pound fullback, bulldozed his way to a game-leading 137 yards and one touchdown on 22 totes, while Cirks kicked two field goals - 32 and 42 yards - and four PATs to power the Tigers to a 40-14 nonconference triumph over the Class 3A No. 2-ranked Fairmont Cardinals on Friday night at Mahoney Field.
"As the old football saying goes, 'When you can run the ball, you control the clock. When you control the clock, you control the game.' And that's what Marshall did tonight," said Fairmont mentor Mat Mahoney. "They are the most physical team that we'll play all season, and that's not a knock on anyone else. That's how good Marshall is."
OUT OF REACH — Fairmont quarterback Mitch Pfingsten (right) fires a pass just out of Marshall defensive lineman Tyus DeBoer’s reach during nonconference football action Friday night at Mahoney Field in Fairmont. Cardinal offensive tackle Sean Klein watches the action. Photo Leanna Becker
Citrowske marched the Tigers 68 yards on a dozen plays during the game's opening series before Cirks kicked the PAT for an early 7-0 edge. Citrowske pounded out all but three yards of a drive that chewed up six minutes.
Despite split end Bryce Holm's first of a game-best five catches and 15-yard runs by running back Brandon Martin and fullback Kyle Guetter, the Cardinals' initial drive stalled at the Marshall 36, forcing Fairmont to punt.
Defensive tackle Colton Hines and linebackers Jay Ruen and Guetter held their ground during the next two Tiger possessions to keep the Cardinals within striking distance midway through the second quarter.
Citrowske and Cirks, however, ignited Marshall's next methodical, time-consuming drive to double the gap to 14-0 with 6:13 left before halftime. Cirks grabbed a key 24-yard pass - one of his team-best four receptions for 68 yards overall - from quarterback Austin Saugstad before Citrowske pounded out 14 yards to reach the Fairmont 10. Brock Baumgarn covered the remaining distance in three totes, capped by a 2-yard spinning dash across the goal line. Cirks then kicked the PAT for a 14-0 lead.
Marshall lineman Tyus DeBoer and the Tiger defense forced a Fairmont punt with three minutes remaining before intermission, and Cirks delivered a rarity.
Cirks drilled a 32-yard field goal through the heart of the uprights with one second showing - on fifth down. After Saugstad recovered his own lost lateral on first down, Citrowske ran for 3 yards, and Saugstad completed a 3-yard pass to Cirks before tossing an incompletion. With no infractions occuring, Cirks calmly kicked the 32-yarder for a 17-0 lead.
Tiger special-teams speedster Rhett Struve, however, made both sidelines forget about the 3-pointer by weaving his way along the Marshall sideline during the first punt of the third quarter. Struve motored 68 yards to reach the Fairmont 2 before Saugstad called his number on the ensuing run for six points. Cirks' PAT kick extended the visitors' edge to 24-0 with 10 minutes left in the third.
"My blockers did a great job creating running room for me on special teams tonight," said Struve, who later delivered a pivotal 94-yard kickoff return for a TD to reverse the game's momentum during the fourth quarter.
Leo Zerr's 48-yard reverse for a touchdown was negated by a clipping penalty at the Cardinals' 18 during Marshall's next possession, but the play did set up Cirks' incredible 42-yard field goal for a 27-0 lead with 4:32 left in the third.
Quarterback Mitch Pfingsten, who completed 12 of 17 passes for a game-best 135 yards, then went to the airwaves to march Fairmont to its first scoring drive of the game.
Pfingsten connected with Holm on a 10-yard strike, zipped a 13-yard swing pass to Guetter, threaded a 12-yarder to Luke Becker and capped the scoring march with a 33-yard post pass to tight end Jay Ruen. Pfingsten then lofted a 2-point conversion pass to Holm to whittle the gap to 27-8 with 2:01 left in the third.
Ruen and defensive company forced a quick three-and-out before quarterback Luke Hested displayed his accurate arm by guiding the Cardinals to another TD. Hested, who completed 7 of 12 passes for 112 yards, hooked up with Holm on strikes of 11 and 14 yards before hitting the fleet-footed Holm between the numbers of a 50-yard post for six points at the 11:43 mark of the fourth.
Struve, however, delivered the game-changer by catching the ensuing kickoff at his own 6, waited for his wedge, accelerated and outran the special-teams defense to paydirt only 12 seconds later to restore a 19-point lead.
Citrowske and the Tiger offense then chewed up time during their final drive, with Struve scoring on an 8-yard sprint. Cirks kicked the PAT for the final point with 3:43 left in regulation.
Fairmont (1-1) plays host to St. Paul Central at 5:30 p.m. next Friday night at Mahoney Field. Marshall (2-0) plays host to Redwood Valley next Friday night.