FAIRMONT - While Fairmont halfback Brandon Martin's bulldozing running style created the path of least resistance Tuesday night, Cardinal linebacker Jacob Portz created a wall of resistance at Mahoney Field in Fairmont.
Portz recorded a career-high 15 solo tackles, while Martin tied the program's single-game rushing touchdown record with five scores to complement 139 yards to power No. 4-seeded Fairmont to a 48-26 Section 3AAA quarterfinal victory over the No. 5-seeded Belle Plaine Tigers.
The Cardinals (5-4) advanced to earn a rematch with Class AAA, No. 2-ranked and top-seeded Blue Earth Area (8-0) in the sectional semifinals at 2 p.m. Saturday at Wilson Field in Blue Earth. The Bucs received a first-round bye.
LOOKING FOR RECEIVERS — Fairmont quarterback Luke Hested (10) rolls right while looking for a receiver downfield during Section 3AAA quarterfinal football playoff action Tuesday night at Mahoney Field in Fairmont. Cardinal lineman Colton Hines (right) makes a block on the play. Photo by Leanna Becker
The Tigers ended their season with a 3-6 overall record.
"Brandon Martin moved into some pretty good company with his five rushing touchdowns tonight," Fairmont mentor Mat Mahoney said in reference to his 220-pound senior halfback sharing the school's single-game mark with legendary Cardinal standouts Richie Haycraft, Mike Wubbena and Jay Katzenmeyer. "He (Martin) got off to a slow start with the (ankle) injury early in the season, but is coming on strong when we need him the most."
Ironically, Martin entered Week 7 with 279 yards and three TDs on 61 totes. The steamrolling running back has amassed 339 yards and five scores on 42 carries during the last two games.
Martin's initial TD - an 8-yarder - however, was created by Luke Becker's incredible 77-yard kickoff return to the Belle Plaine 11.
Freshman quarterback Luke Narveson, who threw for 247 yards, connected with senior wideout Nick Eliason on a 77-yard scoring strike to cap the Tigers' game-opening 9-play, 78-yard drive.
Becker then caught the ensuing kickoff, found a seam along the left side, accelerated up the middle, cut left and motored deep into Belle Plaine territory. Martin took the 2-point pitch from quarterback Luke Hested to swing an 8-7 lead to the Cardinals with 6:56 left in the opening quarter.
"Portz always seemed to be in the right place at the right time all night long. He's a big reason why they couldn't run the ball like they wanted to," said Mahoney.
Fairmont's linebacking core of Portz, Kyle Guetter and Joe Weber, along with safety Jay Ruen, denied Belle Plaine another first down from the Cardinals' 30 via four straight incompletions to take over on downs during the next series.
It only took Hested, who completed 13 of 18 passes for a career-best 232 yards, only three snaps to march Fairmont 70 yards to paydirt.
Hested fired the first two of his six completions to Luke Becker for a total of 27 yards before Martin battered and bruised defenders in his 43-yard path to the end zone. Hested hammered home the 2-point run to extend the Cardinals' margin to 16-7 with 2:31 left in the first frame.
Ruen and Portz then forced a three-and-out series to create a punting situation. Luke Becker weaved his way to a 79-yard TD return only to have a clipping penalty bring the football back to the Fairmont 20.
Hested went to the airwaves again, threading the needle on spirals to Luke Becker and senior split end Bryce Holm to eventually reach the Tigers' 9. Becker grabbed a 10-yarder before Holm corraled pinpoint passes for 8, 26 and 10 yards, respectively.
Martin took care of the remaining distance, battering his way into the end zone from 5 yards out. Hested fired a 2-point pass to Jay Ruen to widen the gap to 24-7 early in the second quarter.
Guetter and Levi Becker's quarterback sack on third-and-11 forced another Tiger punt before Hested's accurate right arm marched the Cardinals to the Belle Plaine 4. Hested rifled a 36-yard bullet to Holm before firing a 19-yard sideline pass to Luke Becker.
Martin plowed across the goal line from 4 yards out before Ruen corraled another 2-point pass from Hested for a commanding 32-7 lead with 6:30 remaining before intermission.
Narveson countered by connecting with Derek Dahlke on a 17-yard fade pass to the left pylon to inch the Tigers within 32-13 with only 2:31 left in the second quarter.
Belle Plaine's defense stiffened to open the third quarter to force a Fairmont punt before Narveson zipped a 36-yard scoring strike to Eliason. Dahlke's PAT kick drew the Tigers within 12 at 32-20 with 8:54 left in the third.
Martin, however, chewed up real estate and time off of the scoreboard, pounding his way into the end zone from the 2 for his record-tying fifth rushing TD. More importantly, Martin's TD and Luke Becker's ensuing 2-point catch from Hested doubled the lead to 40-20 just three minutes later.
Hested later connected for a 13-yard TD to Luke Becker during the fourth frame's early stages before Ben Wagner plunged in for a 1-yard score for the Tigers with 1:11 left in the game.
Holm finished with six catches for a game-best 114 yards, while Luke Becker grabbed six receptions for 104 yards and one TD.
Eliason made two grabs for 113 yards and two TDs for Belle Plaine, while Dahlke added four catches for 52 yards.
BP 7 6 7 6 - 26
FHS 16 16 8 8 - 48
BP - Nick Eliason 77 pass from Luke Narveson (Derek Dahlke kick), 7:54.
F - Brandon Martin 8 run (Martin run), 6:56.
F - Martin 43 run (Luke Hested run), 2:31.
F - Martin 5 run (Jay Ruen pass from Hested), 9:24.
F - Martin 4 run (Ruen pass from Hested), 6:30.
BP - Dahlke 17 pass from Narveson (pass failed), 2:31.
BP - Eliason 36 pass from Narveson (Dahlke kick), 8:54.
F - Martin 2 run (Luke Becker pass from Hested), 5:56.
F - Luke Becker 13 pass from Hested (Hested run), 10:08.
BP - Ben Wagner 1 run (pass failed), 1:11.
First downs: Fairmont 16; Belle Plaine 15. Rushing: FHS 32-149; Belle Plaine 36-121. Passing: FHS 16-21-0-262; Belle Plaine 13-29-1-247. Fumbles-lost: FHS 2-0; Belle Plaine 1-0. Penalties: FHS 3-45; Belle Plaine 5-48.
Offense: Rushing: Martin (F) 19-139; Dillon Haefner (BP) 12-45. Passing: Hested (F) 13-18-0-232, Spencer Chirpich (F) 3-3-0-30; Narveson (BP) 13-29-1-247. Receiving: Bryce Holm (F) 6-114, Luke Becker (F) 6-104; Dahlke (BP) 4-52, Eliason (BP) 2-113.
Defense: Interception: Josh Eversman.