Fairmont bests JCC for Section 3 football crown
NEW ULM — Section 3 football champions and Class AAA state qualifiers for a second consecutive year.
The No. 5-ranked Fairmont Cardinals converted their first four possessions into an early 28-0 lead before fending off the No. 9-ranked Jackson County Central Huskies, 35-18, during the two teams’ fourth straight sectional showdown in New Ulm.
Fairmont (9-1) advances to face unranked Section 4 champion Cannon Falls (5-6) in a 3 p.m. state quarterfinal on Saturday, Nov. 10, in Hopkins.
The Bombers, the No. 5 sectional seed, delivered their second knockout punch in the postseason, eliminating No. 2-seeded St. Croix Lutheran (6-4), 27-10, Friday night. Cannon Falls also ousted No. 1-seeded and No. 4-ranked Breck in the sectional semifinals, 36-27.
JCC, the Section 3 winner in 2015 and 2016 over Fairmont, closed out the year with a 9-2 record.
“Back-to-back state bids for the first time since 1996-97,” said Fairmont head coach Mat Mahoney, who engineered the Cardinal program’s fourth state appearance in his 12th year at the helm. “Our players and coaches put in the effort since the first day of practice, and this is the reward for their hard work.”
The Cardinals struck like lightning on the first play from the line of scrimmage. Running back Jordan Wolter took the initial handoff from quarterback Garrett Myren, twisted, turned, broke tackles and kept his balance en route to a 72-yard touchdown run. Jack Hested kicked the PAT for a 7-0 lead only 17 seconds into the 12-minute opening quarter.
Fairmont’s defense forced a three-and-out JCC series before regaining possession at its own 26. Despite committing three of their 13 penalties on the sectional finale, Wolter churned out 15 of his game-best 123 rushing yards and caught a 37-yard Myren screen pass to help march the Cardinals to paydirt.
Myren, who threw for a game-best 244 yards, connected with split end Dustin Schultz for a 9-yard scoring strike — the first of the quarterback’s three TDs — to cap the drive at the 5:45 juncture of the first frame. Hested kicked the PAT for a 14-0 lead.
“We got off to our fastest start of the season, with Jo (Wolter) setting the tempo early with his long run,” said Mahoney. “Garrett then went to the air, and suddenly we were up by 14, a bit to everyone’s surprise, including ours.”
Linebacker Zac Ringnell, end Nick Thate and defensive company created another punting situation for JCC via a fourth-and-11 situation at the Huskies’ 28. JCC opted to run a fake punt, but Fairmont’s defense swarmed under running back Bradley Buhl at the 31 to regain possession.
Myren, who generated 66 yards on the ground, capped the Cardinals’ ensuing seven-play offensive march with a 6-yard sprint-and-stretch play near the left pylon. Hested’s PAT extended the lead to 21-0 with 1:27 left in the first quarter.
Wolter, Ringnell, Myren and Jacob Rahn stymied JCC’s next mini-drive before forcing a punt. Myren’s running spiral to Tony Nuss for a 24-yard gain out of the senior signal-caller’s scramble then reached the Huskies’ 33. After a holding infraction created a first-and-22 situation, Myren rifled a 42-yard completion to Wolter for a fourth consecutive TD and 28-0 lead following Hested’s kick with 8:57 left before intermission.
The Huskies displayed their mettle as defensive back Jack Brinkman intercepted a Myren pass near the goal line two series later and returned it to his own 19.
Rudy Voss zipped back-to-back completions of 14 and 12 yards, respectively, to Keaton Storm before the junior quarterback reeled off 31 yards of real estate on an option keeper to reach Fairmont’s 10. Buhl then pounded out three of his team-best 91 rushing yards on a bulldozing run up the middle to slice the Huskies’ deficit to 28-6 with 1:23 left in the opening half.
JCC’s defense held to force a punt, and drove just inside of Fairmont territory only to have the sure-handed Schultz intercept Voss’ last-second fling at the 1 to thwart the threat.
The Huskies then displayed their powerful ground-and-pound game to open the third quarter, driving 81 yards on seven snaps to trim the Cardinals’ margin to 28-12. Fullback Zachary Neal hammered out 34 yards, Buhl delivered 16 more on three totes, and Voss capped the sequence with a tackle-breaking 19-yard scamper up the middle.
But both defenses stiffened to create punting situations before an intentional grounding penalty pinned Fairmont at its own 10. JCC got the ball back at the Cardinals’ 36 via a punt and Buhl hammered his way to the 15.
Voss, however, could not find running room on second-and-goal from the 8 before his ensuing fumble was inadvertently knocked out to the 31, where Schultz recovered for Fairmont to kill the key drive near the end of the third quarter.
JCC, however, did not quit as it forced a punt five snaps later before Voss hit Brinkman on a 21-yard rollout to reach Fairmont’s 31. Neal later rumbled 25 yards up the middle for a TD to inch within 28-18 with 10:08 left in regulation.
Neal later recovered a Fairmont fumble on the Cardinals’ 28 with 8:26 showing on the scoreboard, but the red-and-white secondary withstood Voss’ passing attempts.
Myren’s 38-yard sprint around right end, his 17-yard spiral to Schultz, Wolter’s 11-yard grinding run and Myren’s 9-yard crossing completion to Schultz for a TD put the game out of reach at 35-18 with 2:51 remaining.
JCC 0 6 6 6 — 18
FHS 21 7 0 7 — 35
FHS–Jordan Wolter 72 run (Jack Hested kick), 11:43.
FHS–Dustin Schultz 9 pass from Garrett Myren (Hested kick), 5:45.
FHS–Myren 6 run (Hested kick), 1:27.
FHS–Wolter 42 pass from Myren (Hested kick), 8:57.
JCC–Bradley Buhl 3 run (pass failed), 1:23.
JCC–Rudy Voss 19 run (pass failed), 9:31.
JCC–Zachary Neal 25 run (run failed), 10:08.
FHS–Schultz 9 pass from Myren (Hested kick), 2:51.
First downs: FHS 19; JCC 15. Rushing: FHS 34-198; JCC 38-247. Passing: FHS 13-25-1-224; JCC 14-34-1-89. Fumbles-lost: FHS 2-1; JCC 2-1. Penalties: FHS 13-138; JCC 14-112.
Offense: Rushing: Wolter (F) 19-123, Myren (F) 10-66; Buhl (JCC) 20-91, Voss (JCC) 10-78. Passing: Myren (F) 13-25-1-224; Voss (JCC) 14-34-1-89. Receiving: Wolter (F) 5-115, Schultz (F) 4-42; Jack Brinkman (JCC) 9-68, Keaton Storm (JCC) 4-37.
Defense: Interceptions: Brinkman (JCC) and Schultz (F). Fumble recoveries: Schultz (F) and Neal (JCC).