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Fairmont to play host to Belle Plaine in 3AAA football opener

Brendan Schmidtke

FAIRMONT — Mat Mahoney’s career as Fairmont’s head football coach has come full circle when it pertains to the postseason.

Mahoney’s No. 2-seeded Cardinals (6-2) kick off the Section 3AAA quarterfinals at 7 p.m. tonight by playing host to first-year Belle Plaine head coach Dave Frisell’s No. 7-seeded Tigers (2-6) at Mahoney Field in Fairmont.

Ironically, Mahoney, who’s in his 16th season as Fairmont’s gridiron mentor, squared off against Belle Plaine during his first-ever playoff game in the 2007 Section 2AAA quarterfinals at the Tigers’ home field.

While Belle Plaine went on to edge Fairmont by a narrow 26-19 decision 15 years ago, the Cardinals hold a distinct edge in points scored and allowed over the Tigers this season.

Fairmont enters the sectional quarterfinal with a scoring average of 28.0 points per outing, while allowing just 12.8. Belle Plaine kicks off with a 17.0-point clip, while giving up 27.1 to opponents.

The Cardinals and Tigers, however, do share two things coming into tonight’s postseason football opener in Fairmont.

First, Belle Plaine senior Ryan Retzer and Fairmont senior Sawyer Tordsen both have made verbal commitments to hit the gridiron for the Augustana Vikings in Sioux Falls, S.D., next fall.

Tordsen, a 6-foot-7, 283-pounder, will provide pass protection and run-blocking at offensive tackle for the Cardinals, while rotating in at tackle to clog up the middle for Fairmont’s 4-3 defensive alignment.

Retzer, a 6-3, 280-pounder, will handle the Tigers’ snapping duties at center on offense, while anchoring Belle Plaine’s 3-4 defensive scheme from his nose guard position.

Second, both Mahoney and Frisell like to utilize the passing attack to move the first-down markers and put points on the scoreboard.

“Belle Plaine likes to spread out opposing defenses and then either run the jet sweep or go to the air,” said Mahoney. “Their quarterback (Josh Sparby) is just a sophomore and looks on film like he’s gotten better every game since Week 1.”

Sparby completed 26 of an incredible 49 throws for 254 yards and three touchdowns during the Tigers’ narrow 35-28 loss to New Ulm during Week 7.

Trailing 28-0 to the Eagles, Sparby triggered the Tigers’ second-half comeback by scoring on a 17-yard sprint during the third quarter. Sparby then went to the airwaves to generate 22 more points to eventually knot the game at 28-all late in the fourth quarter.

Sparby fired a scoring strike to split end Andrew Siegle, spotted wideout Matt Olson with his second TD pass and later tied the contest with another point-producing connection to Siegle. Olson finished with a 127 receiving yards, while Siegle netted 118 yards.

Despite the comeback, New Ulm prevailed by scoring down the stretch to deny Belle Plaine’s bid for a win.

After kicking off the schedule with back-to-back wins over Sibley East and Le Sueur-Henderson, Belle Plaine closed the regular season on a six-game losing streak.

Across the field, Fairmont has assembled a four-game winning string after losing a 32-14 decision to No. 1 sectional seed Waseca (7-1) on Sept. 23.

In fact, senior quarterback Brendan Schmidtke produced a career-best 263 yards and four TDs on 18-for-25 passing to power Fairmont to a 34-20 victory over Blue Earth Area last Wednesday night at Mahoney Field.

Schmidtke enters tonight’s playoff game with a pair of two sure-handed receivers in senior David Maakestad and junior Levi Pooley. Pooley tops the Cardinals with 30 catches for 409 yards and seven TDs, while Maakestad has hauled in 23 receptions for 365 yards and four scores.

Pooley and Maakestad also spearhead Fairmont’s pick-pocket defensive secondary that has produced 11 interceptions. Pooley has garnered four interceptions, including one pick-6, while Maakestad has returned both of his picks for TDs.

“Brendan did a great job of executing our game plan last week, and seems to be gaining more confidence as we get ready for the playoffs,” said Mahoney. “Overall, we’re just fine-tuning things in all three phases of the game.”

The winner between Fairmont and Belle Plaine faces either No. 3-seeded Luverne (4-4) or No. 6-seeded New Ulm (2-6) in a 2 p.m. Section 3AAA semifinal at the highest seed’s home field on Saturday.

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