BLUE EARTH - Two single-game school-record performances and a pair of pivotal turnovers helped Fairmont reclaim the Little Brown Jug on Friday night.
Quarterback Spencer Chirpich threw for a career-high 271 yards and a record six touchdowns, while split end Josh Eversman pocketed 10 catches for a career-best 202 yards and a tying mark of four TDs to power the Cardinals' 40-22 South Central Conference football triumph over the Blue Earth Area Bucs at Wilson Field.
"We really didn't want to leave here (Blue Earth) without the jug tonight," said Fairmont mentor Mat Mahoney, whose lineup looked to secure the No. 2 spot in the QRF's Section 3AAA rankings by improving to 5-2 overall. "I thought we came into this game with the right frame of mind and that carried over onto the field in the form of a fast start."
DEFENSE TURNED OFFENSE — Fairmont linebacker Jay Ruen (13) looks for running room after making an interception during third-quarter South Central Conference football action Friday night at Wilson Field in Blue Earth. Fairmont linebackers Tim Tow (far left) and Joe Weber (22) look to block during Ruen’s return, while Cardinal defensive lineman Kory Brown blocks Blue Earth Area’s Dakota Jahnke (54) during the runback. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
Chirpich and Eversman established the Cardinals' lethal air attack on just the third snap of the conference and sectional clash, connecting for a quick 62-yard scoring strike along the Bucs' sideline.
After Blue Earth Area safety David Franta and defensive end Kellen Jacobs halted Fairmont's next offensive series, Chirpich switched gears - and targets - to need only four plays to reach the end zone during the visitors' third possession.
Chirpich, who eclipsed the program's previous single-game passing TD mark of five that was shared by Eric Hugoson, Ben Kain and Luke Hested, zipped three spirals to split end Luke Becker to extend the Cardinals' edge to 13-0 with 6:01 remaining in the opening quarter. Becker garnered three of his five receptions during the short and efficient drive, capped by a 15-yard TD catch-and-sprint along the right sideline.
"Just an unbelievable performance by our skill players tonight," Mahoney said in reference to Chirpich's incredible effort and Eversman, who tied Bryce Holm's single-game mark of four receiving scores.
After linebacker Tim Tow, tackle Nick Roggow and the Fairmont defense denied Blue Earth Area a first down for the third straight series, Cardinal offensive coordinator Andy Traetow flipped the switch to the ground game.
Running back Derek Edman, who produced a career-best 101 yards on a yeoman's 31 carries, and freshman fullback Chris Fausch pounded the football inside the Bucs' 10 on the ensuing possession.
Chirpich, who completed 16 of 24 passes on the game, then rolled right and drilled an 8-yard bullet to the sure-handed Becker for his second TD of the game with only 3 seconds left in the first frame for a 19-0 lead.
Buc quarterback Luke Schavey, however, found his passing rhythm during the second quarter's early stages and spotted Trevor Zierke for a key 18-yard gain before capping the scoring march with a 28-yard strike to tight end Quinn Huisman.
Franta and the Bucs' defense then forced a Cardinal punt one sequence later, but Fairmont linebacker Jay Ruen delivered one of his two takeaways.
Ruen scooped up Blue Earth Area's fumble at the hometown team's 49 with 3:53 left before halftime, and the record-setting Chirpich utilized Edman, Becker and Eversman to hit paydirt quickly.
Chirpich threaded a 5-yard strike to Becker and a 16-yard spiral to Eversman in the right flat before Edman broke tackles and bulldozed ahead for 12 yards to the Bucs' 15. Chirpich then alertly recovered his running back's fumble on the next snap before firing a 20-yard seam pass to Eversman for another six points. Chirpich then widened the Cardinals' lead to 27-6 by drilling a 2-point conversion pass to Becker with 2:07 left before intermission.
Franta, however, proved his mettle by answering the challenge with a tackle-breaking 55-yard scoring sprint to keep Blue Earth Area within striking distance at 27-12 heading into the lockerroom.
Ruen's second takeaway - a third-quarter interception - set up Fairmont's next point production from the Blue Earth Area 29. Chirpich later lofted a 10-yard TD pass to Eversman in the right corner of the end zone before Kolin Kelly's PAT kick extended the visitors' edge to 34-14 with 4:02 left in the third.
Franta then utilized his tackle-breaking skills to convert his yards after catch (YAC) into a 54-yard reception from Schavey to reach the Cardinals' 31 during the ensuing series.
Gus Phillips reeled off 9 yards to later reach the 8 before Franta sprinted over left guard to reach the end zone. Jacob Johnson then scooped up Schavey's 2-point conversion pass to inch Blue Earth Area within 34-22 with 1:45 left in the third quarter.
Lightning, combined with an approaching front filled with rain, forced an hour delay from that juncture before the teams returned to Wilson Field.
The defenses dominated for the initial 5 minutes before the Cardinals' 1-2 rushing tandem of Edman and Fausch chewed up real estate and time off of the scoreboard down the stretch. Facing a fourth-and-6 with 1:24 left in regulation, Chirpich fired a 24-yard TD fade pass to Eversman to ice the victory.
Franta finished with a game-best 105 rushing yards for the Bucs.
Fairmont (5-2, 3-1 SCC) travels to New Ulm for an 8 p.m. regular-season finale on Wednesday night, while Blue Earth Area (4-3, 1-3) hits the road to St. James for a 7 p.m. clash.
FHS 19 8 7 6 - 40
BEA 0 14 8 0 - 22
F - Josh Eversman 62 pass from Spencer Chirpich (Kolin Kelly kick), 10:59.
F - Luke Becker 15 pass from Chirpich (kick failed), 6:01.
F - Becker 8 pass from Chirpich (pass failed), 0:03.
BEA - Quinn Huisman 28 pass from Luke Schavey (kick failed), 7:57.
F - Eversman 20 pass from Chirpich (Becker pass from Chirpich), 2:07.
BEA - David Franta 55 run (Bailey Olson pass from Schavey), 0:34.
F - Eversman 10 pass from Chirpich (Kelly kick), 4:02.
BEA - Franta 8 run (Jacob Johnson pass from Schavey), 1:45.
F - Eversman 24 pass from Chirpich (kick failed), 1:17.
First downs: FHS 15; BEA 7. Rushing: FHS 40-140; BEA 24-128. Passing: FHS 16-24-0-271; BEA 9-23-1-142. Fumbles-lost: FHS 2-0; BEA 3-1. Penalties: FHS 6-58; BEA 4-40.
Offense: Rushing: Franta (BEA) 10-105; Derek Edman (F) 31-101; Chris Fausch (F) 7-40. Passing: Chirpich (F) 16-24-0-271; Schavey (BEA) 9-23-1-142. Receiving: Eversman (F) 10-202; Becker (F) 5-58; Huisman (BEA) 2-46; Trevor Zierke (BEA) 2-33; Franta (BEA) 1-54.
Defense: Interception: Jay Ruen (F). Fumble recovery: Jay Ruen (F).