No. 5 Fairmont hits road to Albert Lea
FAIRMONT — Two prep football teams headed in opposite directions during the first two weeks of the regular season.
The Class AAA No. 5-ranked Fairmont Cardinals (2-0) have outscored their opponents 97-14 this fall — a 48-0 season-opening shutout over Tri-City United and a 49-14 triumph over Belle Plaine last Friday night.
The Albert Lea Tigers (0-2) have been on the short end of an 81-12 point differential — dropping a 52-0 decision to St. Peter in their seasonal kickoff before falling to Class AAAA No. 10-ranked New Ulm by a 29-12 margin last Friday night.
The trends also extend over the past two seasons as Fairmont has compiled a 21-5 record, with a state semifinal appearance last year and a state quarterfinal bid in 2021.
Unfortunately for fourth-year head coach Paul Dunn, the Tigers enter Friday night’s 7 p.m. game against Fairmont at Hammer Complex in Albert Lea on a 24-game losing streak dating back to Oct. 16, 2019.
Albert Lea posted a 24-7 win over Austin in an Education Minnesota mid-week clash before losing in the first round of the 2019 postseason. The Tigers then posted back-to-back 0-9 campaigns in 2021 and 2022 after losing all three outings during the restricted pandemic schedule of 2020.
So how does Fairmont mentor Mat Mahoney deal with the psychological aspects of the Week 3 contest?
“Internal motivation instead of external. Focus on cleaning up areas where we haven’t been as sharp as we can be,” said Mahoney. “I had our coaches list three goals for both offense and defense for this week’s game, and now we need to try to achieve those.”
Fairmont has produced a positive 6-to-1 turnover ratio so far, with junior cornerback Hadan Toomer pocketing a pair of interceptions and teammate Gage Borntrager delivering a quarterback sack for a safety and recovering one fumble against Belle Plaine.
“We’re a little banged up this week, so we’ve made a couple changes to our lineups,” said Mahoney. “We received good mileage out of Gage last week by playing him at both defensive line and linebacker, while Hadan nearly returned one of his picks for a touchdown.”
Junior Hank Artz will sit out Friday’s game, causing Fairmont to move defensive tackle Parker Mathiason to Artz’s vacated end spot and sophomore Mathew Martin getting the starting nod at tackle.
Borntrager will join Elijah Johnson and Caleb Chambers at linebacker to transition the Cardinals’ defensive alignment into a 5-3.
“Hank’s a little banged up right now, so we’ll hold him out to see how he fares leading up to next week at St. Peter,” said Mahoney.
Mahoney will insert Jace Teveldal into the offense in Artz’s place at fullback and transform into a more wide-open three-receiver set.
Fairmont will look to senior quarterback Blaze Geiger, junior running back Elijah Johnson and senior wideout Levi Pooley to continue their efficient and effective offensive efforts on Friday night.
“Levi and Blaze connected for two big passing plays out of the gate to set the early tone against Belle Plaine last week,” Mahoney said in reference to Pooley’s TD catches of 62 and 50 yards.
Pooley finished with three catches for 130 yards, while Geiger completed 10 of 14 passes for 251 yards and three scores to complement crossing the goal line on a run.
After erupting for 152 yards and three TDs against TCU during Week 1, Johnson cleared the century rushing mark again by netting 116 yards on only a dozen carries against Belle Plaine. Johnson scored on runs of 34 and 4 yards, respectively.
“Albert Lea plays a 4-3 on defense, so we’ll see what we can do against that,” said Mahoney. “Offensively, they have an athletic quarterback in Teaghen Tolbers, who’s a 6-1, 185-pound sophomore, so we’ll have to keep an eye on him at all times.”
Fairmont hits the road to St. Peter on Friday, Sept. 22, before returning to Mahoney Field for Homecoming against New Ulm on Friday, Sept. 29.
Jeremiah Lebbi scored two touchdowns, caught a 2-point conversion pass and threw another 2-pointer to help Fairmont edge Belle Plaine, 30-26, during C-squad football action Monday.
Lebbi opened the Cardinals’ scoring with a 50-yard run before Jensen Livesay scored on a 2-point keeper.
Brayden Williamson then caught a 40-yard scoring pass from Livesay before Fairmont’s point-after failed.
Lebbi then scored on a 3-yard run and caught a 2-point toss from Livesay before firing a 2-pointer to Owen Terfehr on the heels of Livesay’s 3-yard scoring run.
Calvin Foster-Boswink made 11 tackles to top the Cardinals, Ethan Darnell supplied 10 stops, while Terfehr added an interception.
The Fairmont C-squad plays host to Albert Lea on Monday.