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Fairmont faces New Ulm in home football opener

SPRINTER’S SPEED — Fairmont’s Hudson Artz (left) sprints around Marshall linebacker Caden Fenger (right) during one of his long-yardage kickoff returns during the Cardinals’ football season-opener last Friday night at Mattke Field on the Southwest Minnesota State University campus in Marshall. Artz and the Cardinals play host to New Ulm at 7 p.m. Friday night at Mahoney Field in Fairmont. (Photo by Greg Abel)

FAIRMONT — The last time the New Ulm Eagles defeated the Fairmont Cardinals in a prep football game was Sept. 26, 2014, at Mahoney Field in Fairmont. The Eagles spoiled the Cardinals’ Homecoming six years ago via a 41-26 Week 5 upset.

Ironically, since the Minnesota prep football powers that be switched from conference play to district action in 2015, the two former South Central Conference rivals have played only twice during the last five seasons.

Fairmont’s Class 3A state quarterfinal team downed New Ulm 42-7 in 2017 during Week 8 before the Cardinals’ 3A state runner-up squad posted a 56-0 triumph over the Eagles during their regular-season finale in 2018.

Maybe the most nostalgic date in the two football programs’ recent timeline prior to Friday night’s 7 p.m. Cardinals’ Homecoming kickoff at Mahoney Field harkens back to the fall of 1989.

“This will be the first time I step back onto Fairmont’s football field since I played there as a senior in 1989,” said second-year New Ulm head coach Eric Kauffmann, a 1990 Wells-Easton High School graduate. “It’ll definitely bring back some memories of old South Central Conference rivalries from back in the day.

“I remember when we played against Fairmont — coached by (current head coach) Mat Mahoney’s grandfather (Thomas Mahoney Sr.) — they used to run the option. Ironically, the first play I saw on film from their game against Marshall last week was what else, an option play. Programs have tendencies that seem to carry down throughout the years.”

Ironically, unlike his legendary grandfather’s ground-and-pound, run-heavy offense, Mat Mahoney’s offense tends to lean toward going to the air to move the first-down markers.

“I thought the timing in our passing game was a bit off against Marshall, but part of that is we didn’t have much time to work on it in practice before our season opener last Friday night,” Mahoney said in reference to quarterback Zach Jorgensen’s 8-for-21 passing performance that generated 143 yards, including two touchdown strikes to Eli Anderson and one to Hudson Artz during the Cardinals’ narrow 30-27 loss to the Class 4A No. 3-ranked Tigers. “Jorgy threw the ball well … we just had some drops here and there, but we’ll work on that in practice this week. We’re a younger-than-usual team, so things like that will happen, but we’ll get better with every practice each week.”

Kauffmann’s 3-4 base defense will attempt to hold Fairmont’s air attack in check by presenting a similar alignment that Marshall utilized last Friday night on the artificial turf at Mattke Field.

“We opted for an odd front defensively because it gives us the flexibility to quickly switch to a 5-2 if we need,” said Kauffmann, whose team is coming off a 22-12 victory over St. Peter during Week 3 after losing to Marshall and Worthington, respectively. “Size will definitely be a factor on offense as Fairmont might be the biggest team physically that we’ll play this season.”

The Cardinals’ blockers and pass protectors in the trenches average nearly 250 pounds per player, anchored by 6-foot-5, 320 junior Noah Rahm at left tackle and 6-2, 245-pound senior Tyler Davis at right tackle.

“Offensively, we need to be more consistent and get a little more production out of our running game this week,” Mahoney said in reference to just 65 yards on 22 totes. “Defensively, we’ll face the test of contending with New Ulm’s offensive line that averages 255 (pounds per blocker), and stopping a quick running back in Cole Ranweiler this week.”

Right tackle Dylon Schroeder, a 6-2, 280-pound senior, and 6-3, 260-pound junior left guard Braydon Hoffmann will represent the top two New Ulm offensive lineman size-wise for Ranweiler to run behind.

Ranweiler, a 5-11, 185-pound three-sport senior standout, amassed 225 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries to power New Ulm to the 10-point Week 3 win over St. Peter last Friday night.

“Our defense played fast and physical last week and created four turnovers, so I was pleased with their effort,” Mahoney said in reference to Anderson’s two interceptions, Jake Harris’ pick-6 and Brock Lutterman’s fumble recovery.

Ranweiler and junior quarterback Isaiah Miller will put the Eagles’ single-wing offense in motion in hopes of evening their record at 2-2 after Friday night’s game.

“Obviously, we want to run the ball, although we will try to spread out opposing defenses to utilize our overall team speed,” said Kauffmann. “We won’t feature a lot of one-and-one blocking, but will look to double-team places.

“It’s like I tell our offensive linemen, ‘You don’t have to push a defender back 5 yards, you just have to get in their way long enough for Cole to get around them.'”

Now Fairmont will look to earn its first win of the coronavirus-modified season and exit Mahoney Field with a Homecoming win in hand, while spoiling Kauffmann’s return to the legendary gridiron in 31 years.

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