WASECA - Four-time defending South Central Conference football champion Fairmont overcame the adversity of a plethora of pregame injuries to extend its league winning streak to 21 in a row on Friday night in Waseca.
Quarterback Mitch Pfingsten completed 16 of 27 passes for a game-best 203 yards and three touchdowns to complement two more scores via the ground, while Bryce Holm and Luke Becker combined for a dozen catches and two TDs to help the Cardinals outgun the Waseca Bluejays, 40-32.
Defensive end Justin Barnes' pivotal fumble recovery at the Waseca 6-yard line with 4 minutes remaining in regulation set up Pfingsten's ensuing game-sealing scramble into the end zone. Pfingsten then zipped a 2-point conversion pass - one of Fairmont's five on the game - to Luke Becker to extend the margin to 40-24.
BREAKING AWAY — Fairmont end Ryan Noll (front) accelerates by Waseca defensive back Thomas O’Neil on a 46-yard reception during South Central Conference football action Friday night in Waseca. Photo by Leanna Becker
Waseca answered by assembling a 12-play, 67-yard scoring drive capped by senior tailback Brock Kolander's 1-yard TD plunge with only 48 seconds showing on the scoreboard. Quarterback Thomas O'Neil crossed the goal line on a 2-point conversion run to draw within 8, but the Bluejays' special teams touched the following onside kick to thwart any last-second heroics.
"That's one of the bigger wins for our program since I've been here," said sixth-year Fairmont mentor Mat Mahoney, whose lineup evened its overall seasonal record to 2-2. "Coming off two losses is difficult, but my coaching staff put together a great game plan, and our playmakers stepped up to the challenge and did exactly that - they made big plays tonight."
Two-way starter Nick Roggow delivered the initial clutch defensive gem that established a first-quarter trend of turnovers transforming into instant points. The Fairmont defensive lineman jarred the football loose from Waseca fullback Leo Hoehn and Cardinal cornerback Dan Sumey recovered the fumble at the hometown team's 34.
Pfingsten went to the airwaves early, connecting with Holm for one of his game-leading eight receptions for 7 of his 90 yards before firing a 6-yard sideline strike to Luke Becker.
Pfingsten capped the short scoring drive by finding Barnes on a 7-yard crossing pattern before Pfingsten rolled right and drilled Barnes in the hands for a 2-point conversion for an early 8-0 lead with 9:29 left in the first quarter.
Roggow, linebacker Kyle Guetter and the Fairmont defense forced a three-and-out series only to watch as Bluejay defensive lineman Devin Williamson scooped up a Cardinal fumble at the visitors' 40.
O'Neil, who completed 7 of 16 passes 116 yards, covered 36 yards via a flea-flicker connection to split end Austin Stroda to reach the Fairmont 1. Fullback Zach Gehloff banged his way into the end zone before Kolander swept around the right end to knot the game at 8-all at the 5:27 juncture.
Barnes, an All-Area defensive selection in 2011, then created the next Cardinal scoring opportunity by leaping to snare an O'Neil screen pass at the Bluejays' 32 with 2:36 left in the first.
Running back Josh Eversman reeled off 25 yards around left end before Pfingsten spotted Luke Becker for an 8-yard TD. Holm then corralled Pfingsten's ensuing 2-point pass to double the gap to 16-8 with 2:15 showing on the scoreboard.
Waseca looked to seize the momentum by blocking a punt during the second quarter, only to watch as Leo Hoehn inadvertently knocked the wobbling pigskin out of the Fairmont end zone for a safety.
Guetter and defensive company stiffened and limited the odd sequence to only 2 points before Pfingsten needed only two completions to hit paydirt again. The junior signal-caller threaded a 19-yarder to Holm across the middle before Luke Becker made an incredible one-handed TD catch from 19 yards out.
Barnes then faked a 2-point run before lofting a completion to Holm to extend the Cardinals' edge to 24-10 with 2:49 left prior to intermission.
O'Neil, however, unleashed a 31-yard scoring missile to Stroda with only 31 seconds left before halftime to whittle Waseca's deficit to 24-16. Roggow halted the run off of a low snap to keep the gap at 8.
Pfingsten did not waste any time putting points on the scoreboard to open the third quarter, zipping a 46-yard quick-hitter over the middle to Ryan Noll to reach the Waseca 4. Pfingsten then pounded over left guard for six more points before lofting a 2-point pass to Noll to double the score at 32-16.
Kolander, however, weaved his way for a key 38-yard gain on a reverse run to the right to set up Hoehn's ensuing 8-yard TD run. O'Neil inched the Bluejays within eight by bulldozing into the end zone for the 2-point conversion.
Fairmont (2-2, 1-0 SCC) plays host to Class 3A, No. 7-ranked St. Peter next Friday night in a 7 p.m. Homecoming game at Mahoney Field in Fairmont.
Waseca (2-2, 0-1) travels to Class 3A, No. 2-ranked Blue Earth Area next Friday night for a 7 p.m. league clash.