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No. 6-ranked Fairmont football to make long haul to Arlington

Wyatt Frank

FAIRMONT — An 85-mile trip to Arlington and four quarters of prep football against host Sibley East (2-5, 1-3) stand between Class AAA No. 6-ranked Fairmont and the first-ever South Central Silver District championship on Wednesday night.

“The bottom line is that one of our goals coming into this season was to win the district championship,” said head coach Mat Mahoney, whose Cardinals enter the final game of the regular season with a 6-1 overall record, including a perfect 4-0 mark in district action. “It’s also a section game, so there are implications affecting our QRF ranking, which determines our seeding for the upcoming playoffs.

“So, yes, you can say we have a lot riding on this game, and we need to focus on the task at hand.”

If Fairmont turns in an overall performance resembling Week 7’s 34-0 rout of winless Norwood Young America last Friday night at Mahoney Field, the Cardinals could exit the Arlington gridiron with the newly-created district crown in hand.

Josh Heinze, who will make an official transition from tackle to middle linebacker, and surehanded cornerback Caden Baarts pocketed fumble recoveries, while 6-foot-8 end Wyatt Frank garnered his second interception of the season to pace Fairmont coordinator Brad Johnson’s smothering defensive effort.

While the Cardinals’ 4-3 defensive alignment allowed a miniscule 86 yards of total offense — including 65 on the ground — to NYA, Fairmont coordinator Brian Wille’s offense piled up a season’s-best 300 rushing yards.

Fairmont’s four-pronged backfield attack of Gavin Rodning, Zach Jorgensen, Baarts and Hudson Artz combined for 258 rushing yards and four touchdowns, while Cale Steuber chipped in a 15-yard score on his only carry.

“I’m sure there are teams out there that believe we’re one-dimensional after watching game film on us,” Mahoney said in reference to his Cardinals’ 1,004 passing yards — including 939 and 14 TDs from Jorgensen — this fall. “But take one look at our stats, and we’ve run for 1,210 yards through seven games, so I’d say we’re pretty balanced.”

Sibley East head coach Alan Halverson will look to implement the Wolverines’ 3-5 base defense to negate the Cardinals’ ‘big three’ receivers in Steuber, 25 catches for 312 yards and five TDs; Blake Buntjer, 16 receptions for 269 yards and three scores; and Baarts, 15 catches for 296 yards and five TDs.

“Sibley East’s 3-5 defense creates confusion for opposing offenses just based on the overall alignment and the way it can be transitioned into a 4-4 or 5-3,” said Mahoney.

In fact, the Wolverines produced both of their victories this season on the strength of shutouts.

Sibley East — a combination of Arlington, Green Isle and Gaylord — ended a nine-game losing skid by posting a 12-0 win over Worthington during Week 3 before edging NYA by a 6-0 decision in Week 6.

Caleb Dose, a 6-1, 165-pound junior quarterback, played key roles in all three of the Wolverines’ TDs during those pair of wins. Caleb Dose tossed a 4-yard scoring strike to tight end Lucas Dose before running for a 2-yard TD against the Trojans. Caleb Dose then fired a 15-yard scoring spiral to Tucker Hendrycks to account for the only points in the win over NYA.

“Their quarterback is very athletic and does a nice job of running their offense,” Mahoney said in reference to Caleb Dose. “Sibley East uses a pro formation and runs iso, play-action and even the the option out of it.

“They might run it (option) once or every down. Either way, we’ll have to get prepared for whatever they throw at us.”

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