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Fairmont gains Section 3AAA football final

RECORD-SETTING RETURN — Fairmont defensive back Levi Pooley (7) sprints by Luverne flanker Tyson Cowell (4) and follows blocks by Fairmont teammates Landen Meyerdirk (21) and Parker Mathiason (34) to complete a school record-setting 101-yard interception return for a touchdown during a Section 3AAA football semifinal Saturday at Mahoney Field. (Photo by Greg Abel)

FAIRMONT — In the blink of an eye, Landen Meyerdirk swung the Section 3AAA football semifinal’s momentum in Fairmont’s direction at Mahoney Field.

Meyerdirk scored on a tackle-breaking 55-yard run, intercepted a Luverne pass and caught a 73-yard scoring strike from Brendan Schmidtke during the third quarter to snap a scoreless first-half tie on Saturday in Fairmont.

Elijah Johnson rushed for a 69-yard touchdown and Levi Pooley delivered a school record-setting 101-yard interception return for six more points to cap No. 2-seeded Fairmont’s 35-0 triumph over No. 3-seeded Luverne.

Fairmont (8-2) advances to face No. 1-seeded Waseca (8-1) for the sectional championship at 7 p.m. Friday night on the artificial surface at New Ulm High School. Waseca eliminated No. 4-seeded Tri-City United, 33-7, in Saturday’s other semifinal.

Luverne ended its season with a 5-5 record.

“No doubt about it — Landen gave us the spark we needed,” said Fairmont head coach Mat Mahoney, who improved his playoff record at the field — which is named after his grandfather and legendary Cardinal mentor Thomas Mahoney — to 17-1 since his sideline debut in 2007. “Our defense played lights out for all four quarters and kept us even on the scoreboard in the first half when we couldn’t get anything going.

“Then … 16 seconds later.”

With the football on the 45-yard line, Meyerdirk took the initial handoff of the third quarter, escaped two tackle attempts and sprinted the distance for the postseason clash’s first TD. Owen Burmeister kicked the first of his five consecutive PATs to make it 7-0 at the 11:44 juncture.

“I was just trying to get to the outside, put my head down and lowered my shoulder to get a few extra yards and I broke through the tackles and the rest is history,” Meyerdirk said in reference to his first TD of the sectional semifinal.

Luverne combined two penalties — unsportsmanlike conduct and pass interference — against Fairmont with Conner Connell’s 28-yard connection with Gannon Ahrendt to reach Fairmont’s 10 during the ensuing possession.

After a Parker Mathiason quarterback sack and a Luverne delay-of-game infraction backed Luverne to the 19, Meyerdirk elevated and picked off Connell’s pass near the goal line before returning it to the 35.

Fairmont did not convert the turnover into points, but would receive another pivotal play from Meyerdirk during the next offensive series. Schmidtke zipped a spiral over the middle to Meyerdirk, who sidestepped a tackle and motored 73 yards to the end zone. Burmeister’s kick extended the lead to 14-0 with 2:59 left in the third.

Mathiason’s fumble recovery at midfield led to Schmidtke’s 29-yard TD toss to David Maakestad before Burmeister’s kick widened the Cardinals’ margin to 21-0 with just 17 seconds to go in the third.

Tackle Tyson Thate, end Hank Artz, linebacker Aden Welcome and Fairmont’s defense later held on a fourth-and-11 situation at the home team’s 31 to regain possession in the fourth.

Elijah Johnson accelerated through the line for a 69-yard scoring rumble on Fairmont’s first play and Burmeister kicked the PAT for a 28-0 lead with 7:43 remaining.

Luverne then drove to the Fairmont 12, with Carter Sehr hitting Connell on a 17-yarder, but Pooley tied Meyerdirk by garnering his fifth interception of the season to thwart the threat. Pooley weaved and sprinted from 1 yard inside the end zone, picked up blockers and received a clutch one from Maakestad to cap a 101-yard pick-6 with 2:51 remaining.

Pooley finished with a game-best seven catches for 64 yards, while Schmidtke completed 12 of 17 passes for 167 yards and two TDs. Elijah Johnson led Fairmont’s ground game with 99 yards on eight totes.

LUV 0 0 0 0 — 0

FHS 0 0 21 14 — 35

Scoring Plays

1st Quarter

No scoring.

2nd Quarter

No scoring.

3rd Quarter

FHS–Landen Meyerdirk 55 run (Owen Burmeister kick), 11:44.

FHS–Landen Meyerdirk 73 pass from Brendan Schmidtke (Owen Burmeister kick), 2:59.

FHS–David Maakestad 29 pass from Brendan Schmidtke (Owen Burmeister kick), 0:17.

4th Quarter

FHS–Elijah Johnson 69 run (Owen Burmeister kick), 7:43.

FHS–Levi Pooley 101 interception return (Owen Burmeister kick), 2:51.

TEAM STATISTICS

First downs: Luverne 13; Fairmont 7. Rushing: Fairmont 23-195; Luverne 29-103. Passing: Fairmont 12-17-1-167; Luverne 10-25-2-114. Fumbles-lost: Fairmont 0-0; Luverne 2-1. Penalties: Fairmont 8-52; Luverne 8-50.

INDIVIDUAL STATS

Offense: Rushing: Elijah Johnson (FHS) 8-99, Landen Meyerdirk (FHS) 3-66; Tyson Cowell (LUV) 2-33. Passing: Brendan Schmidtke (FHS) 12-17-1-167; Carter Sehr (LUV) 7-15-1-67, Conner Connell (LUV) 3-10-1-47. Receiving: Levi Pooley (FHS) 7-64, David Maakestad (FHS) 2-30, Landen Meyerdirk (FHS) 1-73; Tyson Cowell (LUV) 4-52, Conner Connell (LUV) 3-20.

Defense: Interceptions: Gavin Baum (LUV), Landen Meyerdirk (FHS), Levi Pooley (FHS). Fumble recovery: Parker Mathiason (FHS).

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