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Cardinals find road football game with Royals

LOOKING AHEAD — Fairmont Cardinals quarterback Zach Jorgensen (11) prepares to fire a pass to receiver Eli Anderson (9) while being pressured by Jackson County Central defensive tackle Trace Michelson (55) during the two teams’ regular-season football finale last Thursday night at Mahoney Field in Fairmont. Fairmont travels to Watertown tonight to face the Watertown-Mayer Royals in a 7 p.m. non-playoff game prior to the official closure of the prep football season. (Photo by Greg Abel)

FAIRMONT — Fairmont athletic director and Cardinals head football coach Mat Mahoney demonstrated his ability to scramble — online, that is.

Mahoney’s Cardinals (1-3) will make the 220-mile round trip to Watertown (Minnesota) tonight for a 7 p.m. non-playoff football season finale against Watertown-Mayer head coach Andrew Phillips’ Royals (2-5).

No. 5-seeded Fairmont, which advanced to the Section 3AAA semifinals when the No. 4-seeded Tri-City United Titans exited the postseason due to coronavirus concerns on Tuesday night, had the option of squeezing in a third-place game before Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s COVID-19 restrictions take effect at midnight.

No. 3-seeded Jackson County Central, however, opted not to play host to Fairmont tonight at Swearingen Field in Jackson. The Huskies defeated the Cardinals, 22-7, eight days ago at Mahoney Field.

“After not being able to play the first two games of an already shortened six-game regular-season schedule, and then not getting a sectional quarterfinal game on Tuesday, we really needed to find a game before the state’s four-week shutdown kicks in,” said Mahoney.

Mahoney scrambled to utilize all of his online outlets and contacts Wednesday night and Thursday morning to finally find an opponent also seeking one more football game to close the book on a season earmarked by asterisks.

“I’d like to thank Watertown-Mayer for giving our program, especially my seniors, the opportunity to step onto the football field one last time,” said Mahoney. “Hopefully, it’ll bring some closure to this very frustrating season.”

Ironically, No. 5-seeded Watertown-Mayer was officially eliminated from the Section 2AAA postseason tournament, losing a 40-9 quarterfinal decision to No. 4-seeded Dassel-Cokato on Tuesday night.

The Royals, however, did close out the regular season on the strength of a down-to-the-wire 14-13 victory over Holy Family Catholic on Nov. 12.

Quarterback Albert Rundell, one of six sophomores in Watertown-Mayer’s youthful starting lineup, completed a 4-yard touchdown strike to sophomore tight end John Mueller before sophomore running back Wyatt McCabe crossed the goal line on a 2-yard run to help pace the narrow one-point win over the Fire.

The Royals’ first triumph of the season — a 28-10 decision over Glencoe-Silver Lake on Oct. 30 on the road — actually slammed the brakes on the football program’s 29-game losing streak that dated back to Sept. 1, 2017.

Connor Donovan returned an interception 70 yards for a pick-6 and added a 38-yard scoring run, McCabe broke free for a 75-yard TD run, while fullback Cole Lange delivered an 8-yard scoring run to highlight Watertown-Mayer ending its three-year drought.

“With such a short turnaround, I haven’t really had much of a chance to watch film on them, so I don’t know much about them (the Royals),” said Mahoney. “They only start two seniors and it looks like they run an open spread offense like we do, while defensively they jam the box with a five- or four-man front.

“We’ll do the best we can to get our guys prepared for the final game of the season, and see how we line up when we get to Watertown.”

Junior quarterback Zach Jorgensen will look to extend his 100-plus-yard passing streak to six consecutive games on the heels of his 167-yard performance against JCC on Nov. 12.

The 6-foot-3, 180-pound Jorgensen has completed 43 of 97 throws for 679 yards and 10 TDs during the abbreviated campaign. He also tops Fairmont’s ground game with 238 rushing yards and two more scores.

Junior split end Eli Anderson leads the Cardinals with 23 catches for 464 yards and seven TDs, topped by a 172-yard receiving performance against St. Peter on Nov. 5.

The sure-handed Anderson also spearheads Fairmont’s defensive secondary by garnering five of the team’s seven interceptions.

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