FAIRMONT - Like their colleagues throughout the state's prep football ranks, Fairmont mentor Mat Mahoney and first-year New Ulm head coach Tony Ortmann face the challenge of playing during Education Minnesota Week.
"The short week definitely changes your preparation time. After a Friday game, the players are still a bit sore and banged up when they show up at Monday's practice," said Ortmann. "It's a difficult turnaround when you have two less days to get ready, so you have to get back to work right away.
"We'll watch film (Monday), then get out to the field and get some reps in. By Week 8, everybody should know the (practice) routine, so that should help, too."
When Ortmann's Eagles (1-6 overall, 1-3 South Central) venture to Mahoney Field for their regular-season finale with the Cardinals (3-4, 2-2) at 7 p.m. Wednesday night, Mahoney and his coaching staff will have their sights focused on stopping New Ulm halfback Isaiah Johnson.
"Number 34 causes a lot of problems for opposing teams from a receiving, a rushing and a special teams perspective," Mahoney said in reference to the 5-foot-7, 155-pound Johnson. "He's not a big guy, but when he touches the football, he makes good things happen for New Ulm."
Indeed. Johnson tops the Eagles' statistical charts with 18 receptions for 365 yards and five touchdowns. The senior halfback also ranks No. 2 behind fullback Jackson Yackley with 362 yards on 77 carries en route to a team-leading seven rushing TDs. Even more incredible, Johnson has generated 12 of New Ulm's 15 TDs on the season.
While junior safety Jay Ruen, who made his return to the gridiron during Week 7, and the Cardinals' 4-4 defense will be keeping a watchful eye on Johnson, nose guard Tevin Mooter - New Ulm's leading tackler - & Co. will look to put the clamps on the Fairmont air attack during the SCC season finale.
"I figured when (Mitch) Pfingsten was a bit wobbly coming off the field at the end of the first half, he was hurt," said Ortmann. "It really doesn't matter as both Pfingsten and (Luke) Hested are good quarterbacks. It's pick your poison as to which one plays."
While Pfingsten piled up 201 passing yards and one TD during the first half of a 33-24 loss to Class 3A, No. 3-ranked Blue Earth Area, Hested displayed his passing prowess during the second half by throwing for a career-best 191 yards and two TDs.
"With Mitch out with a concussion this week, we have the confidence in Teddy (Hested) to lead the charge for us," said Mahoney. "Now, we need to get back on track before heading into the playoffs.
"We need to start executing better in the red zone (inside the opposing 20-yard line) and eliminate turnovers."
Blue Earth Area garnered three interceptions and recovered a fumble to hold a commanding 4-to-0 edge over Fairmont in the turnover department last Friday night.
While the Cardinals lost a nine-point decision to the Bucs, New Ulm dropped a 36-12 nonconference game to Melrose Area during Week 7.
"We're four points ahead of (Mankato) East in our section, and we'd like to stay that way. A win would definitely help," said Ortmann.
"If we can stay healthy without experiencing any more injuries and pick up a win, both of those things would give us some momentum going into the playoffs," said Mahoney.
The majority of the opening-round sectional games will kick off on Tuesday, Oct. 23.