FAIRMONT - For the second consecutive week, Fairmont football mentor Mat Mahoney and his coaching staff have had to make some unexpected adjustments to the Class 3A No. 9-ranked Cardinals' starting lineup.
With senior outside linebacker Levi Becker already recovering from a shoulder injury suffered during Fairmont's season-opener at Worthington on Aug. 31, Mahoney received more bad news this week.
"Jay Ruen broke his ankle during the Marshall game last week," Mahoney said in reference to the Cardinals' 6-foot-3, 185-pound junior starting safety and tight end. "He's one of our few two-way starters and will definitely be missed."
Ruen had made four receptions for 88 yards, including a 33-yard scoring strike with 2:01 remaining in the third quarter of last Friday night's 40-14 non-league loss to Marshall, who earned the No. 9 spot in this week's Class 4A state football rankings.
From a defensive perspective, Ruen ranked among the Cardinals' leaders in tackles this season after topping the red-and-white's charts with seven interceptions in 2011.
In fact, Ruen's tackling skills and nose for the football during Fairmont's victory over St. Paul Central a year ago left a lasting impression on Minutemen head football coach Scott Howell.
"No. 13 (Ruen) seemed to disrupt a lot of our offensive plays during last season's game," said Howell, whose undefeated Minutemen (2-0) square off against Fairmont (1-1) in a rare 5:30 p.m. non-league kickoff Friday at Mahoney Field in Fairmont. "I'm sure Mat will have another quality player to take his place."
Indeed. Junior cornerback Luke Becker will make the transition to safety, senior Dan Sumey will get the start at cornerback, while senior Jacob Portz will fill the vacancy created by Levi Becker's absence at outside linebacker.
"There are opportunities for our (reserve) players to take advantage of due to injuries and now's their chance to step up for us," said Mahoney, who will use starting defensive end Justin Barnes in double duty at tight end during Week 3. "Right now, we (coaching staff) are concerned about getting our guys in the right spots and ready to play ball against a solid team in St. Paul Central this week.
"We just have to let the injuries play out their course and not worry about getting our guys back until they're 100 percent ready to play."
While Fairmont's coming off a 26-point non-league loss to Marshall during Week 2, St. Paul Central ventures to Mahoney Field on Friday on the heels of an impressive 46-6 victory over St. Paul Como Park.
In fact, the Minutemen's 3-5 defense allowed only 155 total yards, including 35 through the air, while St. Paul Central's offense generated 300 yards in nearing the 50-point plateau last week.
"They have great overall team speed, including an offensive line that's quick off the ball," said Mahoney. "Defensively, they're not afraid to hit you."
Despite allowing only two touchdowns in as many games, Howell still anticipates that Fairmont's quarterback rotation of Luke Hested and Mitch Pfingsten - along with running back Brandon Martin and sure-handed split end Bryce Holm - will present a challenge to his Minutemen's swarming defense.
"So far, we've tackled much better than I thought we would at this early stage of the season, but we'll need to tackle well if we're going to stop their big back," Howell said in reference to Martin, who erupted for 164 yards and two TDs on 24 totes during last year's clash in St. Paul. "When he squares his shoulders and runs straight ahead, he's tough to bring down, so we'll have to make him go side-to-side."
St. Paul Central defensive ends Calvin Carlson (6-4, 210 pounds) and Robert Bergstrom (6-2, 225) will look to apply pressure upfront, while inside linebacker Gabe Walker and middle linebacker Gary Knick will look to make the majority of the stops.
"Through the first two games, Gabe Walker has played like a man among boys on the field," said Howell. "He's playing at an all-state level on both sides of the ball right now."
The 5-11, 185-pound Walker, along with reserve running back Jakobi Jackson and quarterback Felix Taylor Jr., will look to fuel the Minutemen's high-octane ground game this Friday.
Taylor Jr. also will look to throw the football to all-St. Paul City Conference receivers Theo Haslow and Elijah Campbell.
Due to a scheduling change, Friday's Outstate vs. Metro clash will be the fourth and final time that the Cardinals and Minutemen will face each other on the prep gridiron.
"We hated to do it, but we replaced them with Dassel-Cokato next year to get our schedule back to four home games and four away games each season," said Mahoney. "St. Paul Central has been a great program to play against over the last four years."
The Minutemen defeated the Cardinals in both 2009 (34-27) and 2010 (21-20), while Fairmont posted a 34-14 victory over St. Paul Central in 2011.