Fairmont hosts JCC in regular-season football finale
FAIRMONT — Game: Section 3AAA championship. Site: Janesville. Date: Nov. 2, 2019.
Life, both on and off the high school gridiron, has changed drastically for both southern Minnesota football powers since the Jackson County Central Huskies dethroned the three-time sectional champion Fairmont Cardinals for a Class AAA state bid last fall.
The Huskies entered last season’s fifth consecutive sectional showdown with a perfect 9-0 record, while the Cardinals kicked off with an 8-1 mark.
That will not be the scenario when JCC ventures to Mahoney Field in Fairmont on Thursday night for the teams’ 7 p.m. regular-season finale.
The Huskies enter the game with a 2-3 record, fresh off a 16-7 victory over Pipestone Area last Friday night, while the Cardinals kick off with a 1-2 mark on the heels of a 14-13 loss to St. Peter at Floyd B. Johnson Field last Thursday night.
“With our head-to-head history and from an Xs and Os standpoint, we have a game plan for them and vice versa,” said Fairmont head coach Mat Mahoney. “Now, however, our focus is figuring out what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong, and then fixing it.
“The toughest aspect of correcting those things stems from the lack of quality practice time. Monday, we were only outside 25 minutes due to the weather, we lost all of (Tuesday), and Wednesday (today) doesn’t look much better.”
Mahoney, however, said despite all the pitfalls of this season’s pandemic-reduced schedule, there’s been one positive.
“Our guys are still working hard each and every day, and I haven’t heard any of them complain, so that’s a huge plus,” said Mahoney.
Another positive for Fairmont has been the steady production generated by quarterback Zach Jorgensen and receiver Eli Anderson this fall. Jorgensen rushed for 100 yards and threw for 173 more yards and two touchdowns against St. Peter, while Anderson corralled seven spirals for two TDs and a career-best 172 yards.
“Fairmont’s quarterback is back, and he throws the ball well and runs the ball well, so stopping him will be a challenge for us,” JCC head coach Tom Schuller said in reference to Jorgensen. “In all reality, we’re so busy worrying about ourselves and seeing who’s going to be available and who’s going to play where, we haven’t been too worried about what our opponents have been doing on film.”
Injuries have taken their toll on the Huskies this season as proven by one glance at JCC’s backfield last Friday night.
“We struggled to find two running backs to put in the backfield to close out the Pipestone game because of guys getting banged up,” said Schuller. “We had to move (Will) Freking to fullback last week, and he’s our only backup at offensive tackle.”
“To the best of my knowledge, he’s the first guy in school history wearing a number in the 60s (68) to gain over 100 yards in a game. I hope to never have to put a lineman number at fullback again,” Schuller said with a chuckle.
Ironically, Freking — a 6-foot-1, 200-pound starting defensive end — produced 103 rushing yards, including the Huskies’ initial TD against Pipestone via a 31-yard run.
Receiver Damian Meyer-Andre added JCC’s second TD via a 10-yard sprint, while quarterback Levi Lindley converted both 2-point runs to pace the Huskies’ nine-point margin of victory over the Arrows. Lindley and Travis Rogotzke, a late defensive replacement at cornerback, each garnered interceptions to seal the Huskies’ victory.
“He (Lindley) does a lot of positive things for (JCC), so our defense will definitely have to keep an eye on him,” Mahoney said in reference to the Huskies junior signal-caller, who rushed for 86 yards and passed for 75 more during Week 5.
With a forecast featuring a 40 percent chance for snow showers and a kickoff temperature of 18 degrees, what approach will Mahoney and Schuller take heading into Thursday night’s regular-season finale?
“We’re in unchartered territory in terms of facing the challenges of a pandemic, trying to keep everyone healthy and getting our younger players more reps on the field against somebody besides ourselves,” said Mahoney.
“Every day I plan just one practice because there’s no assurance we’ll get another one tomorrow with the COVID-19 numbers on the rise lately,” said Schuller. “I’m just happy the kids are getting the opportunity to compete, even if it’s not what we’re used to playing on a regular basis.”