BLUE EARTH - The area sports trivia question of the week: When was the last time that Blue Earth Area and Fairmont went head-to-head in a sectional football playoff game?
Randy Kuechenmeister was entering his fifth season as the Bucs' head gridiron coach, while Mat Mahoney was the Cardinals' freshman-team quarterback.
The year - 1995.
"That seems like a long time ago now," said Kuechenmeister, whose Class AAA No. 2-ranked and undefeated South Central Conference champion Bucs (8-0) play host to Mahoney's defending Section 3AAA champion Cardinals (5-4) at 2 p.m. today at Wilson Field in Blue Earth.
"I remember that playoff game. I watched it from the stands and recall Fairmont losing in a close one," said Mahoney.
Today, Mahoney and the Fairmont gridders hope to not only reverse the red-and-white's fortunes from 17 years ago, but also avenge this season's 33-24 loss at the Bucs' hands on Oct. 12 at Mahoney Field in Fairmont.
"In order to have better success against Blue Earth Area in the section (3AAA) semifinal, we have to match their physicality," said Mahoney. "Their linemen on both sides of the ball come out and attack you. We have to be ready for that in the rematch.
"We also will be facing two of the best blocking backs in Carter Hanson and David Franta, along with Kysten Zierke. It's not too often that a quarterback is the lead blocker on a sweep."
In fact, the 6-foot, 205-pound Zierke hammered his way to four rushing touchdowns - all in the first half - to help engineer Blue Earth Area's nine-point margin of victory two weeks ago.
Similar to Zierke's ground-and-pound running style, Fairmont halfback Brandon Martin returned to his punishing brand of north-and-south rushing en route to 139 yards and a school-tying single-game five TDs to help trigger a 48-26 sectional quarterfinal victory over Belle Plaine only four days ago in Fairmont.
Quarterback Luke Hested threw for a career-best 232 yards and one TD, including a half-dozen completions each to split ends Bryce Holm and Luke Becker, to balance out the Cardinals' offensive attack.
So, the second-most asked question of the week: Does a first-round postseason bye help the idle team heal up and be more prepared or does playing a section quarterfinal keep a team sharper?
"There are a lot of pros and cons as to how a bye affects a team, and the question can be debated back and forth forever," said Kuechenmeister. "I look at it as what matters is what happens in the game. Players still have to execute plays and limit mistakes.
"The only difference at this time of the year is that if you get beat, you're done. Win and you advance. It's that simple."
Mahoney agreed with his coaching counterpart.
"I don't know anything about the bye situation, but I know that playing on Tuesday night helped us work on some things," said Mahoney. "We've had a couple good practices and I think we're more prepared than we've been for any game this season. I like where we're at going into this one."
"I know I've said it before, but Fairmont's still the section champion until someone beats them," said Kuechenmeister. "It's been a great rivalry between the two programs, and we're looking forward to another good game."
The winner between No. 4-seeded Fairmont and No. 1-seeded Blue Earth Area advances to the section championship at 7 p.m. next Friday night against either No. 3-seeded Tri-City United or No. 7-seeded Redwood Valley at the high seed.