Fairmont hosts Belle Plaine for Homecoming

Jacob Roberts

FAIRMONT — A second consecutive game against an undefeated South Central Silver District opponent.

“I almost forgot that we’re playing another district game this week,” Fairmont head football coach Mat Mahoney said in reference to his Cardinals’ 7 p.m. Homecoming clash against the Belle Plaine Tigers on Friday night at Mahoney Field. “Every game, whether a district one or not, is big this time of the season.

“We can’t let up and have to stay focused on the task at hand.”

Fairmont (4-1), which enters Week 6 on a four-game winning streak, and Belle Plaine (2-3), which has won its last two games, both have compiled 2-0 records against district rivals.

The Tigers’ high-octane ground game has picked up speed coming down the stretch, flattening Sibley East by a 36-21 margin during Week 4 before steamrolling Norwood Young America, 30-12, last Friday night.

“We opened the season with three straight games against Class 4A schools, and now we’re finally facing schools with our size of enrollment,” said Belle Plaine head coach Joe Joyce. “Our running game has finally taken off, but we’re still figuring out the rest of our offense.

“We’re just trying to build from week to week, continue to improve down the stretch and hopefully, hit it full steam by playoff time.”

Cole Brown, a 5-foot-9, 210-pound senior, proved the main catalyst behind the Tigers’ power-T offense rumbling over NYA a week ago.

Brown amassed a game-best 204 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while sophomore running back Luke Luskey produced 93 yards and two scores on the ground to complement three 2-point conversions.

“There’s no doubt about it — Belle Plaine’s offensive scheme is difficult to prepare for since you don’t see double-tight end, T-formations much anymore,” said Mahoney. “Number 40 (Brown) is the powerful engine behind the train, and we definitely have to stop him.

“If you fall asleep on the run, they (Tigers) can pass over you, so one has to stay disciplined.”

Mahoney and defensive coordinator Brad Johnson will depend on the Cardinals’ interception leaders — Cale Steuber and Caden Baarts, who have combined for seven picks — to patrol the secondary as the deep defensive back and deep safety, respectively, this week.

“We’re going to load the box with a 6-3-2 defensive scheme and see what we can accomplish,” said Mahoney.

Zach Soelter, who garnered a fumble recovery in last week’s 40-20 victory over Luverne, and Hudson Artz will handle the end responsibilities in the rare six-man front, while 6-8 Wyatt Frank and 6-3 Jacob Rahn will play the tackle spots between the ends and nose guards Josh Heinze and Carson Toomer. Frank pocketed a 78-yard pick-6 at Luverne’s expense.

Michael Johnson will handle the middle linebacking duties, flanked by sure-handed Gavin Rodning and Noah Nelson.

“It’s a bit unusual, but our guys will have to stay disciplined in order for it to work stopping their running game,” said Mahoney.

On the opposing sideline, Joyce will turn to leading tackler Zach Olson, a 6-1, 180-pound senior middle linebacker, and 6-2, 170-pound senior cornerback Colton Kerkow to help spearhead his 4-3 defensive scheme’s effort to hold Fairmont’s high-octane offense in check. Olson recorded two quarterback sacks and Kerkow pocketed two interceptions in Belle Plaine’s win over Sibley East.

“We have to get out of our own way by not making mistakes and eliminate giving up the big plays,” said Joyce. “Fairmont has shown they’re capable of moving the ball downfield in a hurry.”

Sophomore quarterback Zach Jorgensen continues to top the Cardinals’ offensive charts, throwing for three TDs — including two scoring strikes to Steuber and another to Blake Buntjer — and rushing for two more scores in last Friday’s win over Luverne.

Fairmont also received key contributions from its kickoff return unit as Jake Harris and Artz delivered runs of 56 and 49 yards, respectively, to help set up countering scoring drives.

“Fairmont is athletic across the board and that makes it difficult to contend with, but we’ll be ready to play Friday night,” said Joyce.

“Homecoming is a fun week, but from a coaching standpoint, we have to make sure we have our players’ full attention in practice every day,” said Mahoney. “We’d like to keep things going in the right direction as the regular season winds down.”