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Marshall stuns No. 3-ranked Fairmont football, 37-13

CLEARING THE WAY — Fairmont fullback Hank Artz (11) blocks a Marshall defender to clear a path for Cardinal receiver Levi Pooley (7) to pick up extra yardage during prep football action Friday night at Mattke Field on the Southwest Minnesota State University campus in Marshall. The Tigers’ Coby Brownless (36) made the tackle on the play. (Photo by Kim Nelson/Marshall Independent)

MARSHALL — “Marshall proved very physical and controlled the line of scrimmage tonight. You do that on both sides of the football, and you’ll win a lot of games,” Fairmont head coach Mat Mahoney said on the heels of his Class AAA No. 3-ranked and previously-unbeaten Cardinals’ 37-13 South Central Red District loss to long-time mentor Terry Bahlmann’s Tigers on Friday night.

Cornerback Dylan Haney controlled the defensive secondary’s airspace for Marshall, teammate Ashton Blomberg controlled the offensive airspace from his split end spot and fullback Gavin Schaefer controlled the ground game at Mattke Field to trigger the Tigers’ stunning 24-point Homecoming victory on the Southwest Minnesota State University campus.

Schaefer used his 6-foot-2, 230-pound frame to churn out a game-best 176 yards on 17 totes for Marshall, while the 6-4, 190-pound Blomberg caught every pass thrown his way from quarterback Josh Kraft for a game-staggering six receptions and 161 yards.

Ironically, Blomberg did not score but pocketed four Kraft tosses of 30-plus yards to help set up two rushing TDs each by Schaefer and halfback Mason Eickhoff and one more by Kraft.

Meanwhile, Haney corraled three of the Tigers’ four interceptions to prevent the Cardinals from reaching the end zone for the majority of the game, with Eickhoff chipping in one pick.

“It’s a wakeup call for us, but we’ll be OK and make the necessary adjustments for the final two regular-season games and the upcoming sectional playoffs,” said Mahoney.

Ironically, the district showdown had the makings of an offensive shootout as both the Tigers and Cardinals converted their opening possessions into points.

Schaefer and Eickhoff ignited a potent 1-2 ground-and-pound attack that marched 64 yards in eight plays to take a quick 6-0 lead.

Fairmont’s Elijah Johnson, however, displayed his speed and strength by returning Marshall’s ensuing kickoff 81 yards to the Tigers’ 7-yard line. Despite a holding penalty on the Cardinals, Nolan Schultze later caught a 14-yard roll-out strike from quarterback Blaze Geiger for a TD. Kellen Stenzel’s PAT kick gave Fairmont a 7-6 lead at the 7:05 juncture of the first quarter before Marshall reeled off 31 unanswered points to put the game out of reach.

The Tigers’ defensive front of Jacob Panoo, JR Vierstraete and Schaefer held the Cardinals’ high-octane rushing attack to only 68 yards on 20 carries and forced back-to-back punts before Haney garnered back-to-back second-quarter interceptions.

Schaefer scored from 2 yards out following a Tigers’ defensive stand and a five-play, 64-yard offensive drive for a 12-7 lead with only 10 seconds to go in the first.

Haney’s initial pick set up Kraft’s 1-yard plunge on the heels of his 32-yard connection to Blomberg, who made a leaping catch. Eickhoff capped the series with a 2-point run for a 20-7 lead with 4:37 left in the second quarter.

Haney and Fairmont defensive back Taylor Austin then exchanged interceptions on back-to-back snaps before the Kraft-to-Blomberg connection led to Eickhoff’s 2-yard TD burst. Kraft hit Blomberg on tosses of 32 and 20 yards to move the sticks quickly. Ethan Hess’ PAT kick gave the Tigers a 27-7 lead with 14 seconds to go before intermission.

Eickhoff and Haney delivered interceptions for Marshall during a scoreless third quarter before Hess kicked a 25-yard field goal to open the fourth frame.

Schaefer added an 11-yard bruising TD run for Marshall in the final frame, while Levi Pooley grabbed a 25-yard scoring spiral from Geiger to cap Fairmont’s point production. Pooley made a game-best eight catches for 118 yards, while Geiger threw for a game-high 187 yards and two TDs, but tossed the four picks.

Elijah Johnson topped the Cardinals’ ground game by gaining 50 yards on 13 carries.

Kraft completed 7 of 15 passes for 164 yards to help complement the Tigers’ 288 rushing yards en route to a 452-255 total-yards advantage over the Cardinals on the night.

Fairmont (5-1) plays host to Worthington at 7 p.m. next Friday night at Thomas Mahoney Field, while Marshall (4-2) hits the road to St. Peter next Friday night for a game on Floyd B. Johnson Field.

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