ST. PETER - ... and they responded.
Fairmont's defense answered head coach Mat Mahoney's halftime challenge by limiting St. Peter to only 39 yards of total offense en route to producing back-to-back shutout quarters on Friday night in St. Peter.
Linebackers Tim Tow and Joe Weber delivered pivotal second-half takeaways to set up the visiting Cardinals' final two touchdowns, while Kolin Kelly kicked three all-important PATs to engineer Fairmont's 21-18 cardiac comeback victory over the Saints during key South Central Conference action at Floyd B. Johnson Field.
BREAKING TACKLES — Fairmont running back Derek Edman (middle) breaks away from St. Peter linebacker Ryan Hoehn’s grasp and motors toward Saints’ cornerback Sam Wenner (26) during South Central Conference football action Friday night at Floyd B. Johnson Field in St. Peter. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
"Our defense simply played great, especially during the second half tonight," Mahoney said in reference to his 4-3 alignment that did not surrender a first down during the momentum-changing third period.
Trailing 18-7 behind St. Peter quarterback Tom Steidler's two first-half TD tosses, Mahoney delivered a speech that motivated Weber to pounce on the Saints' errant pitch to the right flat during the third series of the third quarter.
"I can't tell you exactly what I told them," Mahoney said with a smile, "but I got the point across that we needed to play with a sense of urgency."
With the football tip at the Cardinals' 46-yard line after Weber's defensive gem, quarterback Spencer Chirpich fired a 19-yard strike to split end Josh Eversman to reach Saints' territory at the 35.
Fairmont then switched gears - opting to temporarily abandon its potent air attack in favor of a ground- and-pound attack behind the tackle-busting legs of running back Derek Edman.
Edman, who hammered out 71 of the team's 84 rushing yards, used four straight handoffs to bulldoze his way to the 3. Weber then took Chirpich's toss around right end to reach the end zone. Kelly's second PAT kick narrowed the Cardinals' deficit to 18-14 with 4:58 left in the third quarter.
Fairmont defensive linemen Kory Brown and Nick Roggow turned up the heat in the St. Peter backfield to create a third-and-out series before Saints' linebackers Tom Steidler and Ryan Hoehn countered by halting the Cardinals at the visitors' 48 to force a punt.
The hard-charging Tow then timed the quarterback-running back handoff exchange perfectly, literally snatching the football out of the Saint runner's hands and rumbling 10 yards to reach St. Peter's 15 on the first play of the fourth frame.
Despite Saints' defensive lineman Brandon Evans' quarterback sack that backed the Cardinals to the 28 on second down, Chirpich maintained his composure and lofted the go-ahead 28-yard TD spiral to Eversman with 10:12 left in regulation. Kelly's kick made it a three-point differential - 21-18.
Roggow and Tow later combined for a QB sack on third-and-5 to force a St. Peter punt with 3:15 remaining in regulation to seal Fairmont's comeback triumph.
The Saints built their halftime lead behind running back Derek Meyer's 1-yard scoring run to cap a six-play, 48-yard drive with 11:13 remaining in the second quarter.
The Cardinals responded by converting defensive end Luke Peterson's fumble recovery at the St. Peter 13 into Luke Becker's 3-yard plow into the end zone at the 7:02 juncture.
Steidler, who completed 16 of 25 passes, netted 51 of his 157 yards via a perfect delivery over the middle to split end Cody Erickson to reach the Fairmont 18. Steidler later rolled right to hit Brendan Reese for a 4-yard TD connection with 2:43 left before intermission.
The Saints then capitalized on Ben Johnson's fumble recovery at the home team's 43 as Steidler threaded the needle on 5 of 6 passes to reach paydirt. Steidler's 22-yard fade toss to Erickson near the left pylon swung an 11-point lead to St. Peter with only 15 seconds showing on the scoreboard in the second frame.
Becker made a game-high nine catches for 67 yards for the Cardinals, while Erickson topped the Saints by garnering five passes for a game-best 100 yards. Ryan Hoehn also grabbed five passes for 36 yards for St. Peter.
Fairmont (3-2, 1-1 SCC) plays host to St. James for Homecoming at 7 p.m. next Friday night at Mahoney Field.
St. Peter (3-2, 2-2) travels to Wilson Field next Friday night to square off against Class 3A, No. 1-ranked Blue Earth Area.
Fairmont 0 7 7 7 - 21
St. Peter 0 18 0 0 - 18
SP - Derek Meyer 1 run (kick failed), 11:13.
F - Luke Becker 3 run (Kolin Kelly kick), 7:02.
SP - Brendan Reese 4 pass from Tom Steidler (run failed), 2:43.
SP - Cody Erickson 22 pass from Steidler (run failed), 0:15.
F - Joe Weber 3 run (Kelly kick), 4:58.
F - Josh Eversman 28 pass from Spencer Chirpich (Kelly kick), 10:12.
First downs: FHS 11; St. Peter 16. Rushing: FHS 32-84; St. Peter 36-149. Passing (Comp-Att-Int-Yds): FHS 12-22-0-127; St. Peter 16-25-0-157. Fumbles-lost: FHS 3-2; St. Peter 6-3. Penalties: FHS 6-67; St. Peter 8-61.
Offense: Rushing: Edman (F) 15-71; Steidler (SP) 9-54, Keegan McCabe (SP) 14-46, Meyer (SP) 9-45. Passing: Chirpich (F) 12-22-0-127; Steidler (SP) 16-24-0-157. Receiving: FHS: Becker 9-67, Eversman 2-47, Jay Ruen 1-13. St. Peter: Erickson 5-100, Ryan Hoehn 5-36, Reese 4-7.
Defense: Fumble recoveries: Luke Peterson (F), Ben Johnson (SP), Erickson (SP), Weber (F), Tim Tow (F).