FAIRMONT - The South Central Conference's top three football teams all earned first-round home games for the upcoming Section 3AAA playoffs.
While the undefeated SCC champion Blue Earth Area Bucs (8-0, 5-0) claimed the seven-team section's No. 1 seed and an opening-round bye, the conference runner-up St. Peter Saints (7-1, 4-1) captured the section's No. 2 seed to earn the right to play host to No. 7-seeded Redwood Valley (2-6) at 7 p.m. Tuesday night at Floyd B. Johnson Field in St. Peter.
Fairmont (4-4, 3-2), the third-place finisher in the SCC, and the Minnesota River Conference runner-up Tri-City United Titans (6-2) garnered the fourth and third seeds, respectively, but each program had to wait until the completion of Pipestone Area's non-league clash with Madison, S.D., on Thursday night to determine their section quarterfinal opponent.
SECOND MEETING? — Blue Earth Area quarterback Kysten Zierke (second from right) eludes Fairmont defensive lineman Sean Klein (right) as Cardinal linebacker Jacob Portz moves forward during regular-season action on Oct. 12 at Mahoney Field in Fairmont. Buc running back Carter Hanson (far left) watches the action. No. 4-seeded Fairmont and No. 1-seeded Blue Earth Area could possibly meet again during the Section 3AAA semifinals on Saturday, Oct. 27, in Blue Earth. Photo by Leanna Becker
"According to the (minnesota-scores.net's) QRF system, one-tenth of a point separated Belle Plaine and Worthington for the fifth spot in our section," Fairmont head coach Mat Mahoney said Thursday morning. "The outcome of the Pipestone game affects Worthington's power ranking because they're in the same conference (Southwest)."
The Madison (S.D.) Bulldogs kicked a field goal in overtime to edge the Pipestone Arrows, 9-6, on Thursday night, therefore leaving the Worthington Trojans' QRF of 30.9 just shy of the Belle Plaine Tigers' 31.0.
No. 5-seeded Belle Plaine (3-5) will venture to Mahoney Field in Fairmont for a 7 p.m. sectional quarterfinal clash with Mahoney's Cardinals on Tuesday night, while the No. 6-seeded Worthington Trojans (3-5) hit the road to Montgomery to face the newly-united forces of Montgomery, Lonsdale and Le Center - aka Tri-City United - during Tuesday's 7 p.m. playoff opener.
Ironically, Blue Earth Area mentor Randy Kuechenmeister and his Class 3A, No. 2-ranked Bucs played the same waiting game last season.
"Oddly enough, we waited on the final outcome of Pipestone's game a year ago to determine our seeding. It's a little nerve-wracking not knowing who your opponent is right away," said Kuechenmeister.
Unlike the fall of 2011, Kuechenmeister's Bucs will sit out the first round before playing host to either Fairmont or Belle Plaine in a 2 p.m. sectional semifinal Saturday, Oct. 27, at Wilson Field in Blue Earth.
"This is territory we've never been in before. A bye definitely gives your players time to heal physically, but some coaches think the lack of a game makes you rusty. I guess we'll see," said Kuechenmeister. "This is such a competitive section, and as far as I'm concerned, until someone defeats Fairmont, they are still the defending section champion."
Blue Earth Area and St. Peter each accomplished that task during the regular season.
The Bucs defeated Fairmont, 33-24, during the SCC rivals' Little Brown Jug on Oct. 12 at Mahoney Field, while the Class 3A, No. 9-ranked Saints downed Fairmont, 28-20, on Sept. 28 on the Cardinals' home turf.
"We're looking at the playoffs as a fresh start. Obviously, we had high expectations coming into this season after taking second at state a year ago, but injuries to key starters have derailed us a bit," said Mahoney, whose team's four losses have occurred at the hands of four programs with a combined seasonal record of 31-1. "Now, we're going to take a one-game-at-a-time approach during the section.
"Last year, we were the team to beat. Now, we're going into the playoffs as the underdog and that's OK with us. The section goes through Blue Earth Area this year, and they're very deserving of the No. 1 seed."
The winner between No. 2-seeded St. Peter and No. 7-seeded Redwood Valley will advance to face either No. 3-seeded Tri-City United or No. 6 Worthington in the Section 3AAA semifinals at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, at the highest remaining seed's home field.
The sectional championship game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2, at the highest remaining seed's home gridirion.