FAIRMONT - A tale of two South Central Conference football streaks.
Fairmont mentor Mat Mahoney's Cardinals will look to begin another long conference winning streak, while first-year St. James head coach Jeff Whitney's Saints will aim at halting a lengthy losing skid when the two league rivals square off at 7 p.m. Friday night in St. James.
The Class 3A, No. 6-ranked St. Peter Saints improved to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the SCC by upending Fairmont, 28-20, last Friday night at Mahoney Field in Fairmont.
Unfortunately for the four-time defending league champion, St. Peter's eight-point margin of victory ended Fairmont's incredible conference winning streak at 21 in a row. Ironically, St. Peter also was the last team to defeat the Cardinals in league play - a 20-14 decision on Oct. 17, 2007, at Floyd B. Johnson Field in St. Peter.
St. Peter also is directly connected to St. James' reverse trend against SCC opponents. St. James will attempt to end its 25-game conference losing streak at Fairmont's expense during Friday night's league clash.
Oddly enough, St. James' last triumph against an SCC rival was a 20-14 decision over St. Peter on Sept. 28, 2007.
Despite the historic parallels, the Cardinals (2-3, 1-1 SCC) and the Saints (0-5, 0-2) each will look to close out the final three games of the regular season on a positive note.
"I know people don't believe it when I say that an 0-5 team is greatly improved, but it's true in reference to St. James this season," said Mahoney. "They play a physical brand of football, but mistakes (turnovers or penalties) have hurt them at critical junctures in their games.
"No team has shut them out, and no one has blown them out, so that's a sign of how much they've improved."
Indeed. Whitney, the Saints' former defensive coordinator, has influenced St. James' vast improvement on that side of the line of scrimmage in 2012. In fact, St. James' average margin of loss is just slightly more than two touchdowns - 14.6 points per game this fall. Last year, the Saints' average margin of loss was 35 over nine games.
"We've been right there in games this year, but a turnover here or a penalty there seems to snowball on us," said Whitney.
That proved to be the case for the Saints during last Saturday's 32-12 loss to New Ulm at Johnson Field in New Ulm.
Trailing 14-6, all-SCC quarterback Sam Carlson delivered a 57-yard scoring strike to split end Zack Gleiter to narrow St. James' deficit to 14-12 with 2:35 remaining before halftime.
Unfortunately for the Saints, the hometown Eagles recovered a St. James fumble with only 40 seconds left in the first half and marched 45 yards to paydirt.
Ironically, Mahoney and the Cardinals can relate to Whitney and the Saints' dilemma.
"The bottom line comes down to two things for us. First, we have to re-establish our running game, and second, we can't keep giving up big plays. We've allowed nine touchdowns of more than 30 yards in all three phases of the game, and that has to stop in order for us to be successful," said Mahoney. "Hopefully, a healthy Brandon Martin in the backfield will solve one of those issues, while having only two two-way starters (fullback/linebacker Kyle Guetter and defensive end/tight end Justin Barnes) on defense will help in the second area."