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No. 2 Fairmont captures district football crown

Zach Jorgensen

LUVERNE — The Class AAA No. 2-ranked Fairmont Cardinals wrapped up the South Central White District football championship on the road Thursday night.

Quarterback Zach Jorgensen returned after a two-game respite and threw for a game-best 180 yards and four touchdowns, Eli Anderson made six catches for a game-leading 118 yards, including a pair of second-half scores, while running back James Johnson gained a game-high 121 yards to power Fairmont to a hard-fought 28-18 district win over Luverne.

“Luverne is always a tough place to play and we’re very happy to exit there with a win tonight,” said Fairmont head coach Mat Mahoney, whose program added another hue to its trophy case. The Cardinals shared the 2018 South Central Red District crown before winning the South Central Silver District title outright in 2019. “Luverne is much better than their record (3-4) indicates, and will be a tough team to draw in the playoffs.”

Clinging to a 14-12 halftime lead on the strength of two Owen Burmeister PAT kicks, both sets of Cardinal defenses pitched a shutout for the first 11 minutes of the third quarter.

Jorgensen, however, found his favorite target — Anderson — for a pivotal 57-yard scoring strike to create a little separation on the scoreboard with a minute remaining in the third. Anderson displayed his vapor-trail speed during his long-distance yards-after-catch sprint before Burmeister kicked the extra point for a 21-12 lead.

Fairmont defensive lineman Tyson Kube’s sack for a nine-yard loss on third down forced Luverne to punt during the ensuing series.

James Johnson delivered the tough yards — 34 out of 54 — during a time-consuming ground-and-pound drive that culminated with Jorgensen flipping a 3-yard TD pass to Anderson near the pylon. Burmeister’s kick widened the gap to 28-12 with 6:06 remaining in regulation.

Luverne running back Ashton Sandbulte hammered out 27 yards on the sod before quarterback Casey Sehr zipped a 21-yard scoring strike to Eli Radtke to narrow the gap to 28-18 with 2:18 to go in the game.

James Johnson then pounded out 27 yards and a pair of key first downs to run out the time to seal Fairmont’s 10-point margin of victory.

Jorgensen showed no signs of rust during the game-opening sequence, completing 3 of 4 passes to march the visiting Cardinals to paydirt. The senior signal-caller zipped a 24-yarder to David Maakestad, hit Hudson Artz on a 4-yard screen and covered the final 23 yards on a TD pass to Levi Pooley. Burmeister’s kick staked Fairmont to a 7-0 lead at the 9:23 mark of the first quarter.

Unfortunately for Fairmont, Luverne linebacker Nathaniel Cole-Kraty’s 12-yard sack on third down combined with a high fourth-down snap during Fairmont’s punting situation to shorten the field for the home team.

Sehr, who went 9 of 16 passing for 108 yards, lofted a 27-yard spiral to 6-foot-4 receiver Gannon Ahrendt for the first of his three TD tosses of the game to narrow the gap to 7-6 with 3:37 left in the opening frame. Hayden Clabaugh batted down the ensuing 2-point conversion pass.

Hank Artz and the Fairmont defense later pinned Luverne at its own 3 before receiving a punt at the home team’s 30 late in the second quarter.

James Johnson bulldozed his way to 25 yards on three totes to reach the 5 before Jorgensen lofted a TD pass to Hudson Artz in the right corner of the end zone. Burmeister’s PAT kick extended Fairmont’s margin to 14-6 with 4:09 remaining before intermission.

Ahrendt, however, utilized his sprinter’s speed to reel off a 44-yard kickoff return before Sehr went to the airwaves. Sehr connected with Radtke on a 10-yarder before tossing a 17-yard screen to Sandbulte for six points. Sehr’s 2-point pass was caught out-of-bounds to keep the differential at 2 by halftime.

Fairmont (7-0) ends the regular season by facing Blue Earth Area in the renewed Little Brown Jug game at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Wilson Field in Blue Earth.

Luverne (3-4) travels to Waseca on Wednesday night for its regular-season finale.

Fairmont 7 7 7 7 — 28

Luverne 6 6 0 6 — 18

SCORING PLAYS

1st Quarter

FA–Levi Pooley 23 pass from Zach Jorgensen (Owen Burmeister kick), 9:23.

LUV–Gannon Ahrendt 27 pass from Casey Sehr (pass failed), 3:37.

2nd Quarter

FA–Hudson Artz 5 pass from Jorgensen (Burmeister kick), 4:09.

LUV–Ashton Sandbulte 17 pass from Sehr (pass failed), 1:55.

3rd Quarter

FA–Eli Anderson 57 pass from Jorgensen (Burmeister kick), 1:01.

4th Quarter

FA–E. Anderson 3 pass from Jorgensen (Burmeister kick), 6:06.

LUV–Eli Radtke 21 pass from Sehr (pass failed), 2:18.

TEAM STATISTICS

First downs: Fairmont 14; Luverne 9. Rushing: Fairmont 35-114; Luverne 31-112. Passing: Fairmont 11-20-0-180; Luverne 9-16-0-108. Fumbles-lost: Fairmont 1-0; Luverne 1-0. Penalties: Fairmont 3-25; Luverne 2-20.

Springfield 32, Martin County West 27 — Quarterback Brendon Buerkle fired a Hail Mary 35-yard touchdown pass to McCoy Krick with no time remaining in regulation to help the Tigers scratch out a five-point triumph over the Class A No. 9-ranked Mavericks on Thursday night in Sherburn.

Quarterback Christian Bachenberg proved MCW’s second-half offensive catalyst to rally the home team from a 20-7 deficit at intermission.

Bachenberg, who topped the Mavericks’ ground game with 108 yards on 20 totes, scrambled 3 yards for a TD to open the third quarter to narrow the gap to 20-13 with 7:55 left.

Buerkle, however, answered by lofting a 5-yard scoring strike to Krick at the 3:59 juncture to restore a 13-point lead for the Tigers.

Bachenberg countered again only two-fold, scoring on another 3-yard keeper only 1 second into the fourth quarter before Brandon Bagwell kicked the PAT to close within six points of Springfield at 26-20. Bachenberg followed his offensive line across the goal line from 1 yard out with just 31 seconds to go in regulation before Bagwell’s kick inched the Mavericks ahead 27-26.

The Buerkle-to-Krick connection through the air with no time remaining proved the game-winner.

Buerkle tossed a 30-yard TD pass to Carter Olson in the first quarter before completing a 26-yard spiral to Krick during the second frame.

Bachenberg responded with a 2-yard TD pass to Tanner Sinn before Bagwell kicked the PAT with 2:28 left before halftime.

Once again, Buerkle displayed his comeback skills by threading the needle on a 23-yard scoring pass to Olson with only 4 seconds left before halftime. Ashton Johnson ran for the 2-point conversion for a 13-point lead for the Tigers.

Bachenberg completed 9 of 16 passes for 134 yards and one TD, while Joseph Forsberg gained 59 yards on 16 carries for MCW. Rylan Cutler added 40 yards on eight totes.

Sinn made four catches for 23 yards and a score, Zach Anderson grabbed two passes for 68 yards, while Kain Sanders had two receptions for 18 yards.

Max Olson topped the Maverick tackling charts with nine, while teammates Carver Rohman and Wyatt Williamson contributed six stops apiece.

Martin County West (5-2) travels to Tracy-Milroy-Balaton on Wednesday night for its regular-season finale.

SCORING PLAYS

1st Quarter

SPR–Carter Olson 30 pass from Brendon Buerkle (run failed), 1:22.

2nd Quarter

SPR–McCoy Krick 26 pass from Buerkle (run failed), 5:46.

MCW–Tanner Sinn 2 pass from Christian Bachenberg (Brandon Bagwell kick), 2:28.

SPR–Olson 23 pass from Buerkle (Ashton Johnson run), 0:04.

3rd Quarter

MCW–Bachenberg 3 run (kick failed), 7:55.

SPR–Buerkle 5 pass to Krick (pass failed), 3:59.

4th Quarter

MCW–Bachenberg 3 run (Bagwell kick), 11:59.

MCW–Bachenberg 1 run (Bagwell kick), 0:31.

SPR–Krick 35 pass from Buerkle, 0:00.

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