FAIRMONT - Little Brown Jug series newcomer Gus Phillips played a key role behind the coveted corked crock's return to the Blue Earth Area trophy case on Friday night.
Phillips, whose family moved to the school district during the offseason, carried the football nine times for a game-high 132 yards and one touchdown on offense, while producing one interception and one quarterback sack from his defensive end spot at Mahoney Field in Fairmont.
Phillips' two-way performance, combined with quarterback Kysten Zierke's 98 rushing yards and four TDs, powered the Class 3A, No. 3-ranked Bucs to a 33-24 South Central Conference victory over the Fairmont Cardinals.
DOUBLE-TEAMED — Fairmont linebackers Jacob Portz (20) and Ryan Noll (85) combine to drag down Blue Earth Area running back Carter Hanson (3) during South Central Conference football action Friday night at Mahoney Field in Fairmont. Fairmont linebacker Joe Weber (far right) awaits Blue Earth Area offensive lineman Garrett Christensen as Buc lineman Kellen Jacobs (far left) watches the action. Photo by Leanna Becker
Blue Earth Area, who improved to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the league, ended Fairmont's four-year SCC reign and earned a share of the conference championship for the first time since 2007. The nine-point triumph also snapped the Cardinals' four-year grasp on the jug, although Fairmont still holds a 42-14 overall edge in the 58-year prep football series. The two teams also have tied twice.
"It was a tale of two halves tonight. We controlled the pace during the first half, while Fairmont controlled it in the second half," said Blue Earth Area mentor Randy Kuechenmeister, whose lineup can clinch the SCC outright with a victory over St. James during the two teams' regular-season finale at 7 p.m. Wednesday night at Wilson Field in Blue Earth. "We made enough plays tonight to win, and that's what it's all about."
After Luke Becker capped the Cardinals' game-opening drive with a 65-yard TD catch from quarterback Mitch Pfingsten to trigger what would be a Fairmont single-game receiving yards (233) record for the junior split end, the rest of the first half belonged to the 6-foot, 205-pound Zierke.
Zierke marched the Bucs 67 yards in nine plays to quickly counter the Cardinals' early 8-0 edge behind Becker's TD reception and Bryce Holm's 2-point conversion catch from halfback Brandon Martin. Zierke zipped a 13-yard pass to split end Isaac Darrington, served as the lead blocker on Phillips' 11-yard toss play and pounded home the first of his four scores from 3 yards out. Felix Harseim's PAT kick narrowed the Bucs' gap to 8-7 with 6:24 left in the opening quarter.
Phillips' relentless pressure and ensuing quarterback sack for a 5-yard loss on third down forced Fairmont to punt.
Zierke later reached the Cardinals' 8 via an 18-yard connection with tight end Steven Plocker before the hard-nosed quarterback bulldozed his way across the goal line from 8 yards out. Harseim's PAT kick extended the gap to 14-8 with 41 seconds to go in the first frame.
Despite Pfingsten's 34-yard strike to tight end Justin Barnes during the next sequence, Blue Earth Area linebacker Greg Claeys' key 7-yard sack and Zierke's pressure creating a hurried incompletion triggered another Fairmont punt.
Despite starting at their own 20 via a touchback, Phillips covered half of the 80-yard drive by taking Zierke's pitch and following the quarterback's path-clearing block to the Cardinals' 30. Zierke then broke tackles en route to a 25-yard TD run before Harseim kicked the PAT for a 21-8 lead with 7:24 left in the second quarter.
Darrington's interception at the Fairmont 41 led to six more Blue Earth Area points before halftime. Phillips reeled off 38 yards to reach the Cardinals' 11 before Zierke produced his fourth score four snaps later on a 1-yard run. Josh Eversman blocked the PAT kick to keep the game at 27-8 going into the lockerroom.
"Two fundamental things that we did not do well in the first half - blocking and tackling," said Fairmont mentor Mat Mahoney. "I thought our boys did do a nice job coming back during the second half, but we just gave up too much during the first half."
With starting quarterback Mitch Pfingsten sitting on the sideline with an injury after throwing for an incredible 201 first-half yards and one TD, senior signal-caller Luke Hested moved under center and displayed his mettle by completing 10 of 20 second-half throws for 191 yards and two scores to help trigger Cardinals' comeback bid.
Linebackers Ryan Noll, Levi Becker, Kyle Guetter and Jacob Portz combined to help keep the Buc offense pinned inside its own 10 on the heels of Brandyn Olsen's interception late in the third quarter.
An errant long snap out of the back of the end zone added two points to the Cardinals' total with 4:30 left in the third.
Luke Becker, who shattered Fairmont's single-game receiving yards mark with a stunning 233, then displayed his sure hands and vapor-trail speed by making one of his game-leading 10 receptions for a 38-yard TD from Hested. Hested then fired a 2-point conversion pass to Kyle Guetter to slice Blue Earth Area's lead to 27-18 with 8:52 left in regulation.
Phillips later thwarted the Cardinals' march into Bucs' territory by intercepting a pass. Darrington's airtight pass coverage and Phillips' pressure on the QB forced a fourth-down incompletion at the Fairmont 40 with 3:31 remaining.
Zierke zipped a 21-yard pass to David Franta to reach the 11 before Phillips accelerated around right end and spun into the end zone for six more points and a 33-18 lead with 2:49 left.
Hested connected three straight times with flanker Mark Fruechte to cover 53 yards before capping the drive with a 10-yard scoring strike to Kyle Guetter. Phillips then spoiled the 2-point conversion pass with 1:03 remaining.
Split end Bryce Holm contributed six catches for 42 yards to the Cardinals' 450 yards of total offense, while Martin rushed for 42 yards on 14 totes.
Fairmont (3-4, 2-2 SCC) plays host to New Ulm at 7 p.m. Wednesday night at Mahoney Field in its regular-season finale.
BEA 14 13 0 6 - 33
FHS 8 0 2 14 - 24
F - Luke Becker 65 pass from Mitch Pfingsten (Bryce Holm pass from Brandon Martin), 9:47.
BEA - Kysten Zierke 3 run (Felix Harseim kick), 6:24.
BEA - Zierke 8 run (Harseim kick), 0:41.
BEA - Zierke 25 run (Harseim kick), 7:24.
BEA - Zierke 1 run (kick blocked), 2:45.
F - Safety, long snap hiked out of end zone, 4:30.
F - Luke Becker 38 pass from Luke Hested (Kyle Guetter pass from Hested), 8:52.
BEA - Gus Phillips 11 run (run failed), 2:49.
F - Guetter 10 pass from Hested (pass failed), 1:03.
First downs: FHS 17; BEA 15. Rushing: FHS 25-58; BEA 46-321. Passing: FHS 23-38-3-392; BEA 7-10-0-48. Fumbles-lost: FHS 2-1; BEA 0-0. Penalties: FHS 2-15; BEA 4-30.
Offense: Rushing: Phillips (BEA) 9-132, Zierke (BEA) 21-98, David Franta (BEA) 8-58; Brandon Martin (F) 14-42, Guetter (F) 4-27. Passing: Pfingsten (F) 13-18-1-201, Hested (F) 10-20-2-191; Zierke (BEA) 7-10-0-48. Receiving: Fairmont: Luke Becker 10-233, Holm 6-42, Mark Fruechte 4-67, Justin Barnes 2-40, Guetter 1-10. B.E. Area: Franta 2-22, Steven Plocker 1-18, Isaac Darrington 1-13.
Defense: Interceptions: Darrington (BEA), Brandyn Olsen (BEA), Phillips (BEA). Fumble recovery: Nick Beattie (BEA).
Nicollet 7, Granada-Huntley-East Chain/Truman 6 - The 9-Man, No. 6-ranked Raiders snuck away with a 7-6 Southern Confederacy League victory against the Jaguars on Friday night in Nicollet.
The Jaguars took a 6-0 lead into the lockerroom at intermission after scoring on a 24-yard pass from Chandler Greier to Jeremy Smith with 3:17 left in the second quarter.
The Raiders took their only lead of the game with 7:53 remaining in regulation. Nicollet quarterback Dalton Elliott connected on a 1-yard pass to Matt Christenson and a PAT made it 7-6.
The Jaguars had a chance to win the game, driving down inside the Raiders' 10, but turned it over on downs.
Greier completed 13 of 21 passes for 143 yards, throwing two interceptions and one touchdown.
Smith made three catches for 55 yards, while Lucas Maday made one catch for 25 yards.
Jared Green led the Jaguar ground game, running 25 times for 39 yards. DaMarko Thomas added seven carries for 33 yards for the offense.
Granada-Huntley-East Chain/ Truman (2-5) hosts Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Truman.
Madelia 52, Fulda 8 - The Blackhawks pummeled the Raiders, 52-8, in a Southern Confederacy League game on Friday night in Madelia.
Blackhawks' quarterback Adam Cooling completed 14 of 29 passes for 306 yards, throwing three touchdowns and one interception.
Cooling also scored four rushing TDs in the win, scoring on runs of 8, 21, 36 and 23 yards.
Jack Bergeman scored on the first Cooling passing TD by catching a 45-yarder.
Riley Benzel and Jon Whitney caught the other two passing TDs from Cooling for 30 and 19 yards, respectively.
Paul Anderson led the Blackhawks defensive effort with 10 tackles, three quarterback sacks and a fumble recovery.
Madelia (5-2) travels to Randolph for a league game at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
Fulda (2-5) hosts Mountain Lake Area at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn 55, North Union 6 - The Hawks rushed for 547 yards, shutting down the Warriors in a 55-6 victory Friday night in Hartley, Iowa.
The Warriors got an 83-yard kickoff return from Cody Runksmeier in the first quarter to stay within striking distance, making it 13-6.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, the Hawks scored 42 more points in the final three quarters to take the win.
Runksmeier carried the ball twice for 34 yards for the Warriors, while Ty Anderson ran four times for four yards.
Jacob Braddock went 2-for-10 passing for 12 yards and two interceptions. Jake Adams made the two catches, gaining 12 yards.
Adams also made one interception for the defense, returning it 36 yards for North Union.
Jacob Govern, Marshall Klingenberg, Braddock and Blake Cole each recovered a fumble in the game.
North Union (1-7) hosts Okoboji at 7 p.m. next Friday in Armstrong.