NYA football ventures to No. 6-ranked Fairmont for Week 7

Shayne Steinbrink

FAIRMONT — Prep football programs moving in opposite directions.

When Norwood Young America makes its first-ever appearance at Mahoney Field in Fairmont on Friday night, the Raiders (0-6) are seeking to snap a current nine-game losing skid that dates back to a little more than one year ago.

Ironically, the Raiders, who defeated Sibley East by a 34-0 decision on Oct. 5, 2018, are coming off their closest game of this fall — a 6-0 loss to the Wolverines last Friday night.

On the opposing sideline during Week 7’s South Central Silver District game, the Class AAA No. 6-ranked Fairmont Cardinals (5-1) will look to extend their winning streak to six in a row after kicking off the season with a loss to Class AAAA No. 9-ranked and undefeated Marshall (6-0).

Senior flanker Caden Baarts produced a career-best five touchdowns to propel the Cardinals to a second-half comeback that transformed a 22-21 halftime deficit to Belle Plaine into a 41-22 Homecoming triumph.

Baarts generated three touchdowns and 104 yards on the ground, while adding two more scores and an identical 104 receiving yards to trigger the victory.

“We’ve still got a sour taste in our mouths about how we played last Friday night,” said Fairmont head coach Mat Mahoney. “We played two great quarters in the second half last week, but as we approach the playoffs, we need to put together four really good quarters each time out.”

Norwood Young America, which has been outscored 207-56 through six games, has steadily improved from week to week as 5-foot-11, 150-pound freshman quarterback Noah Strickfaden continues to evolve into a passing threat.

“There’s no doubt about it — they (Raiders) want to spread you out defensively and let their freshman QB take his shots downfield,” said Mahoney. “They’ll want to establish the fullback (junior Tom Campbell) first to help set up their play-action and regular passing game.

“They line up in the correct positions on the field, but their timing has just been off enough to keep them from having success so far.”

Strickfaden will have to first contend with frontline pressure exerted by Fairmont defensive end Jacob Rahn and defensive tackle Josh Heinze before trying to thread his passes past the Cardinals’ sure-handed cornerbacks Cale Steuber and Baarts. Steuber tops Fairmont’s 11-pick team total with four interceptions, while Baarts is next with three.

Offensively, Cardinals sophomore quarterback Zach Jorgensen could eclipse the 1,000-yard seasonal plateau on Friday night, entering Week 7 with 866 yards through the air to complement 14 TDs.

“No. 30 Jesse Weinand, their middle linebacker, is definitely their best defensive player, so our blockers will have to make sure to get out on him right away,” said Mahoney.

So, with Fairmont entering this week as the No. 3 team in the 56-team Class AAA rankings by the QRF and Norwood Young America in the 52nd spot out of 55 Class AA teams, what’s the Cardinals’ motivation?

“One of our goals when the season began was to win the district championship, and if we want to accomplish that, we have to defeat Norwood Young America,” said Mahoney, whose lineup holds a 3-0 district record. “Another motivating factor centers around earning one of the top two seeds in our section.

“If we win out the next two weeks, we should get a first-round bye in the playoffs, and be able to rest a little during the (Education Minnesota) break.”

The final tailgate event of the Fairmont Cardinal football team’s regular season will take from 5:30-7 p.m. Friday night at Mahoney Field.

The menu will consist of a taco in a bag, a cookie and a bottle of water for $5.

Lakes FM and HyVee of Fairmont are the event’s sponsors.