FAIRMONT - Fairmont's coming off back-to-back losses, has a plethora of injuries and makes its longest road trip of the regular prep football season this week.
Sixth-year mentor Mat Mahoney and his four-time defending South Central Conference champions, however, have maintained their composure in preparing for the Cardinals' league opener against Waseca head coach Brad Wendland's Bluejays (2-1) at 7 p.m. Friday night in Waseca.
"There's no doubt about it - we're beat up physically right now," Mahoney said in reference to a red-and-white lineup missing two-way starters Jay Ruen and Brandon Martin due to ankle injuries, in addition to a handful of players recovering from an assortment of ailments. "We've gone into Week 4 with the same record (1-2) during two of the previous three seasons, so we're not going to panic.
"We still have a good core of guys who can go out there and get the job done."
The Fairmont defense's first task at hand will be slowing down Waseca senior tailback Brock Kolander. The 6-foot-2, 195-pounder Kolander has assembled three consecutive 100-plus yard rushing games en route to 370 yards and six touchdowns on the ground this fall.
"We definitely have to contain him," Mahoney said in reference to Kolander, who's coming off a 121-yard, three-TD rushing performance - in addition to returning an interception 37 yards for another six points - during the Bluejays' 27-26 victory over Minneapolis Washburn last week.
"He has drawn interest from a variety of schools to play at the next level," Wendland said in reference to his perennial all-SCC tailback.
But Kolander is not Waseca's only offensive threat as senior fullback Zach Gehloff cleared the century rushing mark and scored two TDs in a season-opening 42-7 win over Albert Lea.
"Gehloff's a hard-nosed running back who complements Kolander well, and both of them have (senior guard Jacob) Claybaugh opening holes," said Mahoney. "He (Claybaugh) does a good job of pulling, and Waseca uses a lot of formations, so we'll have to stick to our keys and continue our pursuit to the football."
Devin Williamson, a 6-5, 275-pound junior, will flank Claybaugh at a tackle position for an offensive line that averages 236 pounds per blocker.
"Our offensive line only has two seniors back, and it continues to improve each week," said Wendland. "Our offense also will get an extra boost this week as Leo Hoehn returns to help out in the backfield. He hasn't totally been healthy enough to play both ways for us this season, although he has started at linebacker on defense all three games.
"He definitely gives us more options on offense."
Hoehn, who has averaged double figures in tackles during all three games this fall, and sure-handed cornerback Jacob Laube - who pocketed two of Waseca's four interceptions a week ago - will pace a 4-4 alignment that will have to defend Fairmont's two-quarterback rotation of senior Luke Hested and junior Mitch Pfingsten.
"We expect to face an offense that features a pair of quarterbacks who can throw and run the ball both, in addition to seeing a variety of (running) backs with Martin out," said Wendland. "We'll also see the top two receivers (Bryce Holm and Justin Barnes) that we'll probably face all year, so we had better be ready.
"Fairmont's defense is fast and sound as always, so we'll have our work cut out for us."
Mahoney agreed with his former colleague during their prep coaching days at St. James High School years ago.
"We're playing another team bigger classwise (4A) than us, so we'll have to be prepared for whatever they throw at us," said Mahoney. "Now we'll see how our players respond on the field.
"We've played well up there (Waseca) in the past, and hopefully, we can continue that trend Friday night."