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No. 6 Fairmont football to clash with No. 9 Waseca

Noah Rahm

FAIRMONT — When Class AAA No. 6-ranked Fairmont locks up with No. 9 Waseca at 7 p.m. Friday, it’ll truly be defined as an “impact” football game — both at Mahoney Field and on paper.

“It doesn’t get any bigger from a section and a district perspective,” said Cardinals head coach Mat Mahoney. “The winner will remain atop both of those team standings by themselves at the end of the night.”

Both Fairmont and Waseca have compiled perfect 3-0 overall records and share the No. 1 spot in both the Section 3AAA and South Central White District races. Only Tri-City United has a winning record (2-1) thus far in the seven-team sectional standings, while the Cardinals and Bluejays are the only gridders above .500 in the five-team district competition midway through the regular schedule.

Ironically, the pair of top 10-ranked perennial powerhouses have achieved their success with different orientations this season.

Waseca enters the Week 4 clash of titans with a respectable 20.7-point scoring clip, while limiting opposing offenses to only 9.3 points per outing.

“I’m not taking anything away from what our offense has achieved this year, but our defense has been doing a heckuva job for us,” said Waseca head coach Brad Wendland, who has not been on the Bluejays’ sideline since experiencing a cardiac arrest during the final seconds of the 2021 season-opener on Sept. 3. “We’ve been defending both the run and the pass equally strong, and we’ll be playing the best offense we’ll see during the regular season.

“It’ll be a massive challenge for us.”

Fairmont’s offense, which enters Friday night with a 34.7-point scoring pace, averages 399 yards per outing on the strong arm and legs of senior quarterback Zach Jorgensen.

Jorgensen tops the Cardinals’ ground game with 276 yards and two touchdowns on 50 carries, and their air attack with 717 passing yards and nine TDs. Split end Eli Anderson leads the high-octane offense with 15 receptions for 394 yards and six scores.

“Fairmont has four players that jump out on film — No. 23 (linebacker/running back Gavin Rodning), No. 24 (safety/flanker Hudson Artz), No. 9 (Anderson) and No. 11 (Jorgensen),” said Wendland. “We didn’t play Fairmont last year, but ironically, when I looked at our game from 2019, they’re the same guys we faced back then.”

Anderson paces the sure-handed Cardinals’ defensive secondary with three of the team’s eight interceptions, including a pick-6 from 50 yards away during last week’s 41-18 victory over Jordan.

Wendland’s other references also have contributed to Fairmont’s air-tight pass coverage unit, with Rodning having collected two interceptions, including a pick-6, while Jorgensen and Artz have garnered one pick apiece.

The Cardinals’ defense, which allows just 13.7 points per game, will look to put the clamps on a balanced Bluejays’ offense that went to the air for one TD and scored two more via the run in last Friday’s 22-8 triumph over Tri-City United.

Junior quarterback Ollie O’Brien completed 12 of 16 passes for 171 yards, including a TD toss to split end Isaac Potter, while the running back tandem of Kyle Ahlschlager and Mason DeKruif each tallied six-point runs for Waseca during Week 3.

“They’re a run-first team, so we’ll have to stop it right away and then be ready to defend the pass,” said Mahoney. “O’Brien’s an elusive runner and really understands what they’re trying to accomplish offensively.

“Both (Christian) Rodriguez and (Kyle) Ahlschlager run hard out of the backfield, so they’ll be a challenge to defend.”

Mahoney said the Cardinals’ balanced offense — 237 yards rushing and 225 passing against Jordan — will need to use its two-edged weapon against a Waseca 3-4 defense that closes gaps quickly and always seems to have personnel in the right positions.

“We’ll be put to the test by their corner (6-foot-2 Shaun Hulscher) and safety (Potter) when we pass, while we’ll also have to keep an eye on Jarret Ahlschlager, one of their inside backers, to prevent him from blowing up our running attack.”

“It’ll be a great game. Now we just have to wait and see which team limits its mistakes (penalties and turnovers),” added Mahoney.

“They’re a dangerous team and can strike with a big play at any time from anywhere on the field,” said Wendland. “Now our job will be to stop that from happening.”

POLL NOTES: Blue Earth Area head football coach Randy Kuechenmeister’s Bucs (3-0) maintained the No. 2 spot behind Blooming Prairie in this week’s Minnesota Associated Press Class 2A state poll.

The Pipestone Area Arrows hold the No. 3 position in 2A behind Blue Earth Area, while the Redwood Valley Cardinals remained in the No. 4 spot.

The Mountain Lake Area Wolverines top the Class 9-Man state football rankings for a third consecutive week.

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