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JCC dethrones Fairmont for sectional football crown

SWARMED UNDER — Fairmont Cardinals defenders Caden Baarts (13), Zach Soelter (on ground) and Tyson Kube (28) combine to stop Jackson County Central flanker Levi Lindley’s progress during Saturday’s Section 3AAA football championship game in Janesville. Fairmont linebacker Gavin Rodning (23) moves in to assist on the play. (Photo by Greg Abel)

JANESVILLE — Jackson County Central passed two-time defending Section 3AAA football champion Fairmont’s mettle test without throwing many passes.

The Class AAA No. 2-ranked Huskies’ potent tandem of tailback Elijah Meium-Bratrud and fullback Bradley Buhl Jr. combined for 252 rushing yards and three touchdowns to dethrone the No. 5-ranked Cardinals, 36-12, during Saturday’s sectional championship game in Janesville.

Jackson County Central (10-0) advances to face No. 10-ranked Waseca (8-2) at noon Saturday, Nov. 9, in the Class AAA state quarterfinals at Lakeville South High School. The Bluejays upended No. 4-ranked Stewartville for the Section 1 championship, 42-20, Friday night.

“Turnovers were the name of the game today,” said Fairmont head coach Mat Mahoney, whose lineup ended the season with an 8-2 overall record. “We were a plus-14 in that category prior to today, but lost all three first-half fumbles and Jackson (County Central) capitalized on two of those opportunities.”

Both the Huskies and Cardinals utilized smothering defense to hold the opposing offenses in check during each team’s first two possessions of the fifth consecutive sectional showdown between the two football powerhouses.

Fairmont defensive tackle Jacob Roberts and linebacker Zach Soelter then slammed the brakes on JCC’s respective third-and-2 and fourth-and-2 runs to regain possession at the Cardinals’ 39 with 5:11 to go in the opening quarter.

Fairmont, which was limited to only 11 yards on 23 carries for the game, went to the airwaves to produce the sectional finale’s first points with 2:27 remaining in the first quarter. Quarterback Zach Jorgensen, who threw for 157 yards, zipped spirals to his two favorite targets — split ends Cale Steuber and Caden Baarts — to put six on the scoreboard. Jorgensen threaded a 38-yarder to Steuber along the right hash mark before overcoming a holding penalty by rocketing a 39-yard TD toss to Baarts in the end zone.

The Cardinals’ lead was short-lived as quarterback Rudy Voss connected for the first of his two completions on the contest to mush the Huskies to the end zone. Voss threw a perfect 43-yard spiral to Keaton Storm to reach Fairmont’s 7-yard line before Buhl Jr. covered the distance in two carries, with the last blast from 3 yards for the equalizing TD. Storm then kicked the PAT for a 7-6 edge with only 41 seconds left in the first quarter.

“I can’t remember the last time I completed only two passes at the varsity level and we won,” said Voss, who produced 63 yards via his six passing attempts. “But individual stats don’t matter when you get to the sectional finals — it’s all about our team advancing to the next round.”

Jorgensen completed a 6-yard pass to Baarts to open Fairmont’s next series, only to have JCC’s Cole Kapplinger jar the football loose and recover the fumble with just 25 seconds to go in the opening quarter.

“Our defense really stepped it up today with three fumble recoveries and (four) quarterback sacks,” said Voss, “and our backs (Meium-Bratrud and Buhl Jr.) did a great job of following our guys upfront and hitting the holes.”

With the football on Fairmont’s 34 thanks to Kapplinger’s defensive gem, flanker Jack Brinkman gained 8 yards on an end-around toss before Meium-Bratrud accelerated through the right side, slashed left, kept his balance and outraced the Cardinals’ secondary for a 26-yard TD. Voss then capped the scoring drive with a sprint around the right end for a 15-6 lead with 11:50 to go in the second quarter.

After tackle Jacob Rahn, Roberts and the Fairmont defense forced a JCC punt two series later, Huskies linemen Matthew Stubbe and Colby Ringeisen combined for a pivotal turnover-creating play. Stubbe’s outside pressure forced Jorgensen to exit the pocket, Stubbe stripped the football from behind and Ringeisen recovered the fumble at Fairmont’s 20. Voss sprinted over left guard for a momentum-turning 11-yard TD with 5:46 remaining before halftime.

Defensive back Levi Lindley then pocketed the Huskies’ third fumble recovery of the opening half two plays later to keep the Cardinals at a 15-point deficit at intermission.

Meium-Bratrud’s 47-yard, tackle-eluding run highlighted JCC’s opening possession of the third quarter before Buhl Jr. bulldozed his way across the goal line from 16 yards out. Buhl added the 2-point conversion run for a 29-6 edge with 9:54 left in the frame.

Baarts, however, displayed his speed by taking a low-bouncing kickoff, sprinted out of a mini-scrum, beat a JCC defender to the corner and left nothing but a vapor trail on his 81-yard TD return.

JCC, however, re-established its four-TD margin when the Huskies stopped Jack Hested’s fake-punt toss at Fairmont’s 34 near the end of the third quarter. After Buhl Jr. pounded out 26 of the remaining yards, Lindley took Voss’ handout up the middle for a 1-yard score. Storm kicked the PAT for a 36-12 lead with 2:48 to go in the third.

Ringeisen and Sam Dunker later delivered sacks for JCC, while Rahn highlighted Fairmont’s stifling defensive performance with a fumble recovery as neither team scored during the fourth frame.

Meium-Bratrud finished with a game-best 144 yards and one TD on 15 totes, while Buhl Jr. hammered out 108 yards and two scores on 23 carries.

Baarts made a game-best six receptions for 75 yards and a score for the Cardinals, while Steuber and Blake Buntjer each garnered three catches.

Fairmont’s Hudson Artz and JCC’s Alex Bretzman each contributed one sack.

FHS 6 0 6 0 — 12

JCC 7 14 15 0 — 36

Scoring Plays

1st Quarter

FHS–Caden Baarts 39 pass from Zach Jorgensen (pass failed), 2:27.

JCC–Bradley Buhl Jr. 3 run (Keaton Storm kick), 0:41.

2nd Quarter

JCC–Elijah Meium-Bratrud 26 run (Rudy Voss run), 11:50.

JCC–Voss 11 run (pass failed), 5:46.

3rd Quarter

JCC–Buhl Jr. 16 run (Buhl Jr. run), 9:54.

FHS–Baarts 81 kickoff return (kick failed), 9:39.

JCC–Levi Lindley 1 run (Storm kick), 2:48.

TEAM STATISTICS

First downs: Jackson Co. Central 14; Fairmont 7. Rushing: JCC 61-200; Fairmont 23-11. Passing: Fairmont 13-25-0-175; JCC 2-6-0-63. Fumbles-lost: Fairmont 5-3; JCC 3-1. Penalties: Fairmont 4-41; JCC 4-59.

INDIVIDUAL STATS

Offense: Rushing: Meium-Bratrud (JCC) 15-144, Buhl Jr. (JCC) 23-108; Gavin Rodning (FHS) 4-10. Passing: Jorgensen (FHS) 12-22-0-157, Jack Hested (FHS) 1-3-0-18; Voss (JCC) 2-6-0-63. Receiving: FHS: Baarts 6-75, Cale Steuber 3-62, Blake Buntjer 3-28, Hudson Artz 1-10. JCC: Storm 1-43, Lindley 1-20.

Defense: Fumble recoveries: Cole Kapplinger (JCC), Colby Ringeisen (JCC), Lindley (JCC), Jacob Rahn (FHS). QB sacks: Alex Bretzman (JCC), Artz (FHS), Matthew Stubbe (JCC), Ringeisen (JCC), Sam Dunker (JCC), Rahn (FHS). Interceptions: None.

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