Fairmont hosts No. 2 Waseca in Week 3 tilt

Sedrick Parker

FAIRMONT — Fairmont mentor Mat Mahoney and Waseca head coach Brad Wendland each possess the uncanny ability to smoothly transition underclassmen into their starting lineups without losing a step on the prep gridiron.

Wendland’s Class AAA No. 2-ranked Bluejays (2-0) enter Friday night’s 7 p.m. non-district football clash against the Cardinals (1-1) with 10 different juniors hitting Mahoney Field, led by quarterback Ryan Dufault.

The hard-nosed, 5-foot-10, 160-pound Dufault has proven a double-threat out of the backfield this fall, throwing for five touchdowns and running for another score to help power Waseca’s season-opening 57-8 rout over Tri-City United and a 48-0 shutout over Norwood Young America during Week 2.

“Offensively, Dufault can beat you with either his (throwing) arm or legs. He’s a tough runner, throws a nice ball and is just an all-around athlete,” said Mahoney. “Defensively, we’ll have to be aware of where he’s at, at all times.”

Ironically, Wendland echoed Mahoney’s sentiments in reference to Fairmont signal-caller Zach Jorgensen — one of five different sophomores getting starting nods for the Cardinals during Friday night’s clash in Fairmont.

The 6-3, 170-pound Jorgensen has matched Dufault’s impressive individual numbers by passing for five TDs and rushing for another score to help trigger the Cardinals’ 41-19 victory over St. Peter last week on the heels of a season-opening 34-12 loss to Class AAAA power Marshall.

“Fairmont just keeps cranking out quarterbacks, and have another good one in Jorgensen,” said Wendland. “He’s athletic, shown a good arm and looked very composed for a sophomore out there.

“He has tall receivers who can make plays, and allow them to be able to score from anywhere on the field.”

Caden Baarts, a 6-3, 175-pound senior flanker, corralled long-distance scoring strikes from 60 and 67 yards, respectively, while 6-1, 150-pound senior split end Cale Steuber produced the longest TD catch of Week 2’s game — an 86-yarder — to complement a 14-yard scoring reception. Blake Buntjer, a 6-5 senior wideout, also garnered three catches last Friday night.

“Fairmont uses multiple offensive formations that present challenges for any defense, and creates a lot of work for us to do to prepare for them,” said Wendland.

“They’ve definitely got some size to contend with in their front four on defense. Their one end (Marcus Hansen) and the nose guard (Tyler Gerdes) are two strong linemen with good size,” Mahoney said in reference to the 6-foot, 225-pound Hansen and 6-3, 310-pound Gerdes. “And you can’t forget the other end in 6-9 Andrew Morgan, who’s just an outstanding athlete.”

Ironically, Dufault will face Morgan’s cousin — 6-8 Wyatt Frank — rushing from one of Fairmont’s defensive end spots, along with 6-3, 220-pound interior lineman Jacob Rahn and 6-foot, 190-pound tackle Josh Heinze.

“Defensively, Fairmont’s athletic up front and gets up the field quickly,” said Wendland. “They can put pressure on you, and that allows their tall defensive backs to cover a lot of ground when the ball is in the air.”

Steuber, who garnered the Cardinals’ first interception of the season during Week 2, and Baarts, who pocketed four picks in 2018, will look to shut down Waseca’s 6-4, 175-pound junior receiver Kyreese Willingham and 5-9, 160-pound junior receiver Tave Ball this Friday night.

Ball has made three TD receptions this campaign, while Willingham has pocketed a pair of scoring strikes in limited minutes on the field due to the Bluejays’ wide margins of victory.

“He (Ball) played running back in the past, but we wanted to get our best 11 players on the field at the same time, so we moved him to receiver this season,” said Wendland.

Unlike previous seasons, Friday night’s clash between the former South Central Conference and Southern Minnesota Alliance rivals will have no impact on the district standings since the two powerhouse programs were separated during the offseason.

“We’re looking forward to the challenge of playing a quality team like Fairmont this week,” said Wendland. “It should help get us ready for the rest of regular-season schedule that includes Jordan next week and Marshall during Week 7.”

Mahoney agreed with his coaching counterpart.

“We’ll get a better idea of what we need to work on and what adjustments we have to make to get prepared for the next five weeks leading up to the playoffs.”