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No. 2 Fairmont hits road to Luverne for earlier clash

Hayden Clabaugh

FAIRMONT — Everything changes, including the Class AAA No. 2-ranked Fairmont Cardinal football team’s starting lineups, at least for Week 7.

Zach Jorgensen returns at quarterback when Fairmont (6-0) attempts to clinch the South Central White District championship via a road victory over the Luverne Cardinals (3-3) at 7 p.m. on Thursday — not Friday.

“Winning a district title is one of our team goals this season, so we’re looking forward to competing for it in a couple of days,” said Fairmont head coach Mat Mahoney.

While Jorgensen will handle the snaps for the first time since Fairmont’s 28-15 win over Waseca on Sept. 24, his backfield and offensive line has been modified since the Cardinals’ Homecoming game at Mahoney Field.

“We are planning on having Jorgy call signals this week after he sat out the past two weeks due to an injury,” said Mahoney. “The one positive that came out of that situation was Brendan Schmidtke, who’s a junior, really stepped up for us by throwing for 406 yards and eight touchdowns during Jorgy’s absence.”

Jorgensen will hand off to running back James Johnson, who officially replaces workhorse Gavin Rodning, and fullback Ethan Geerdes.

“We definitely got banged up during last week’s game against Worthington and will have to move some people around,” said Mahoney. “We’re very fortunate to have the depth and flexibility to plug guys into different spots in order to continue to compete.”

Johnson, however, is no stranger to the Cardinals’ ground game as the junior has generated 200 yards and one TD on 37 carries this season.

Due to injuries to Sawyer Tordsen and David Barrientos, Fairmont’s offensive line experienced a domino effect that shifts the Artz brothers within its internal workings. Hank Artz shifts from tight end to guard, Gavin Junkermeier moves laterally to Tordsen’s vacated tackle spot, while Hudson Artz fills the tight end position. Tyson Kube, the Cardinals’ regular fullback, will utilize his blocking skills at Barrientos’ vacated guard position.

Hayden Clabaugh, who recorded nine tackles during Fairmont’s 46-0 win over Worthington on Friday night, will replace the hard-hitting Rodning at linebacker, while Gage Cyphers will move into the defensive front five with Tordsen on the shelf.

“Hayden earned the right to start at linebacker last week, and will go again this week,” said Mahoney. “He made the tackle on the opening kickoff and then on Worthington’s first play.

“He’s a guy who’s hung in there to get the opportunity to play and he’s made the most of it.”

Now, Clabaugh and defensive company will look to hold Luverne quarterback Casey Sehr, running back Ashton Sandbulte and wide receiver Gannon Ahrendt in check during Thursday night’s game in Luverne.

“Luverne’s offense incorporates a number of unique things out of multiple formations,” said Mahoney. “Sometimes they’ll run one tight end and two running backs or come out in two tight ends and one running back,” said Mahoney. “(Gannon) Ahrendt is a game-breaker at wide receiver for them. He’s 6-4, fast and athletic, while (running back Ashton) Sandbulte has good speed out of the backfield.”

Sandbulte gained 51 yards and scored both of Luverne’s TDs in last Friday night’s narrow 20-16 loss to Class AA No. 3-ranked and undefeated Pipestone Area. Ahrendt made three catches for a team-best 42 yards in the 64th Battle Axe game with the Arrows, while quarterback Casey Sehr completed 7 of 16 passes for 93 yards.

For the second straight week, Fairmont’s offense faces a four-man defensive alignment when it travels to Luverne on Thursday night.

Sandbulte spearheaded Luverne’s defensive effort against Pipestone Area by recording 8 1/2 tackles, while defensive lineman Connor Overgaard, and defensive backs Sehr and Braydon Ripka delivered six stops apiece.

“Luverne’s defense has allowed only 16 points a game, so we’ll be tested offensively this week,” said Mahoney, whose offense averages 35.2 points per outing, while the defense gives up a miniscule clip of 10.3 points.

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