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Fairmont ‘banks’ Class AAA state quarterfinal football victory

THEFT — Fairmont defensive lineman Tyson Thate (right) wrests the football away from St. Croix Lutheran Academy quarterback Jack Thome during Class AAA state quarterfinal action Saturday at Dick Hanson Field in Burnsville. Fairmont went on post a 49-7 victory. (Photo by Greg Abel)

BURNSVILLE — Next stop for the Fairmont Football Express — the Class AAA state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

Quarterback Brendan Schmidtke produced all-time chart-climbing passing numbers, Landen Meyerdirk made four receptions for a game-best 172 yards and two touchdowns, while Elijah Johnson rushed for 108 yards and one score to help the Cardinals flatten the St. Croix Lutheran Academy Crusaders, 49-7, in Saturday’s state quarterfinal clash in Burnsville.

Fairmont (10-2), winners of eight straight games, will look to derail unbeaten Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (11-0) in next Saturday’s 2 p.m. semifinal at the home of the Minnesota Vikings. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton rallied to eliminate previously undefeated Esko (11-1) by a 21-17 quarterfinal decision on Saturday in Brainerd.

“I know it sounds cliche, but this team just gets better and better with each game,” said Fairmont’s Mat Mahoney, who’s seeking the first state football championship of his 16-year coaching career during his sixth state appearance. The Cardinals were the Class AAA state runners-up in both 2011 and 2018. “What can I say about Brendan? Just an outstanding game today. He knew where and when to throw the ball, and our receivers made the catches again.”

Schmidtke completed an incredible 11 of 12 passes for career-bests of 302 yards and five TDs to engineer Fairmont to converting its first five possessions of the state quarterfinal into 35 points.

Schmidtke, a 6-foot, 155-pound senior, earned a share of the program’s No. 4 spot for single-game passing yards with Ben Kain, who reached the 302 mark in 2011. Schmidtke’s five passing TDs in a game tied Nate Kallenbach and Lukas Hested for No. 2 all-time, while his 26 TD tosses on the season moved him into third all-time behind only Spencer Chirpich (33) and Garrett Myren (27).

“Great game plans by both of our coordinators (Brad Johnson and Brian Wille) today, and our players executed them to a tee,” said Mahoney.

After linemen Tyson Thate and Hank Artz, linebacker Aden Welcome and safety James Johnson helped Brad Johnson’s defensive unit force the Crusaders to punt on their initial possession, Schmidtke needed only two touches to strike like lightning during the 20-degree temperature at Dick Hanson Field.

Facing second-and-8 at the 33, Schmidtke zipped a quick out pass to Meyerdirk in the right flat. The nimble-footed Meyerdirk broke a tackle, toe-tapped just inside the sideline, squared his shoulders and sprinted 67 yards to paydirt. Owen Burmeister then kicked the first of his seven consecutive PATs to help Wille’s offensive unit produce a 7-0 lead at the 7:44 juncture of the opening quarter.

Ironically, it took the Crusaders just 15 seconds to match the Cardinals’ point production. Running back Evan Valleau bulled up the middle, broke free from another defender via a stiff-arm shot and sped 66 yards for a TD. Matt Beekman kicked the PAT for a 7-all tie at the 7:29 mark.

Elijah Johnson pounded out 14 yards around left end and Schmidtke contributed a 12-yard scramble to highlight Fairmont reaching the St. Croix Lutheran 35 during the ensuing series.

Schmidtke then faked left, rolled right and spotted a wide-open Levi Pooley near the right sideline for a 35-yard scoring strike facing fourth-and-2 with 3:44 to go in the first frame.

Fairmont’s defense forced a St. Croix Lutheran punt before Schmidtke and the Cardinals’ offense converted their third consecutive possessions into points. This time Schmidtke rifled a 40-yard missile to David Maakestad to reach the Crusaders’ 2 before Elijah Johnson pounded over the left side to cover the distance for a score. Burmeister’s kick extended Fairmont’s lead to 21-7 with 9:44 left in the second quarter.

Another three-and-out sequence by SCL, and Fairmont generated a fourth consecutive TD and needed only three plays to cross the goal line. Schmidtke fired a 29-yard pass to Meyerdirk before the senior receiver was denied a TD by getting dragged down via a “horse-collar” tackle, resulting in a 15-yard penalty on the Crusaders.

Johnson ground out two yards to the 15 before Schmidtke spotted Maakestad in the right flat. Maakestad slip-streamed a couple of defenders to score a TD. Burmeister nailed the kick through the uprights for a 28-7 lead with only 6:35 left before halftime.

More Welcome, Artz and Fairmont defense created another three-and-out series by SCL before Schmidtke threaded the needle on a perfect pass over the middle to tack on six more points. Meyerdirk sprinted up the middle, turned and grabbed Schmidtke’s spiral that split a Crusader defender’s hands before shifting into high gear to race to a 77-yard TD reception. Burmeister’s kick made it 35-7 with 2:22 left before intermission.

“Right before he called the play, Wille said that I was getting another touchdown on it,” said Meyerdirk. “The defender was in my face the whole route and I thought he was going to knock down the pass. Brendan threaded the pass in between his hands perfectly, I focused on catching it and I was gone.”

During the next possession, Fairmont’s Thate was close to sacking Jack Thome, then opted to wrestle the football away from the SCL quarterback and returned the fumble to the Crusader 3 with less than a minute to go in the first half.

SCL’s Noah Rathje was credited with a fumble recovery — at Fairmont’s expense — in the end zone for a touchback for the Crusaders with 27 seconds to go before intermission. Fairmont’s Pooley countered by intercepting Thome on the final snap of the first half.

Elijah Johnson reeled off 50 of his team-best 108 yards on the first snap of the third quarter before Schmidtke fired his final pass of the state quarterfinal — a 25-yard TD toss to Maakestad. Burmeister’s kick made it 42-7 with 9:52 left in the third.

James Johnson broke free for a 39-yard rumble, Meyerdirk added 17 yards more on a sweep and James Johnson found the end zone from 1 yard out to widen Fairmont’s lead to 49-7 following Burmeister’s kick at the 14-second juncture of the third quarter.

Valleau topped SCL’s ground effort with a game-best 110 yards and one TD.

FMT 14 21 14 0 — 49

SCL 7 0 0 0 — 7

Scoring Plays

1st Quarter

FMT–Landen Meyerdirk 67 pass from Brendan Schmidtke (Owen Burmeister kick), 7:44.

SCL–Evan Valleau 66 run (Matt Beekman kick), 7:29.

FMT–Levi Pooley 35 pass from Brendan Schmidtke (Owen Burmeister kick), 3:44.

2nd Quarter

FMT–Elijah Johnson 2 run (Owen Burmeister kick), 9:44.

FMT–David Maakestad 15 pass from Brendan Schmidtke (Owen Burmeister kick), 6:31.

FMT–Landen Meyerdirk 77 pass from Brendan Schmidtke (Owen Burmeister kick), 2:22.

3rd Quarter

FMT–David Maakestad 25 pass from Brendan Schmidtke (Owen Burmeister kick), 9:52.

FMT–James Johnson 1 run (Owen Burmeister kick), 0:14.

4th Quarter

No scoring.

TEAM STATISTICS

First downs: Fairmont 10; St. Croix Lutheran 10. Rushing: St. Croix Lutheran 42-208; Fairmont 26-201. Passing: Fairmont 11-13-0-302; St. Croix Lutheran 1-11-1-12. Fumbles-lost: Fairmont 2-1; St. Croix Lutheran 3-1. Penalties: Fairmont 2-13; St. Croix Lutheran 4-40.

INDIVIDUAL STATS

Offense: Rushing: Fairmont: Elijah Johnson 14-108, James Johnson 2-40. St. Croix Lutheran: Evan Valleau 13-110, Jack Thome 13-53, Matt Beekman 12-40. Passing: Brendan Schmidtke (FMT) 11-12-0-302, Blaze Geiger (FMT) 0-1-0-0; Jack Thome (SCL) 1-11-1-12. Receiving: Fairmont: Landen Meyerdirk 4-172, David Maakestad 3-80, Levi Pooley 4-50. St. Croix Lutheran: Wyatt Hunt 1-12.

Defense: Interception: Levi Pooley (FMT). Fumble recoveries: Tyson Thate (FMT), Noah Rathje (SCL).

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