FAIRMONT - Inside linebacker Tim Tow and Fairmont's 4-4 defense pitched a shutout, while quarterback Spencer Chirpich displayed his strong and accurate throwing arm during Friday night's football season-opener at Mahoney Field.
Tow recorded a game-high dozen tackles as the Cardinal defense limited the Trojans to just 71 yards of offense, while Chirpich completed 17 of 24 passes for a game-best 237 yards and four touchdowns to power Fairmont's 26-0 non-league triumph over Worthington.
"The bottom line - it was a tale of two halves," Cardinal head coach Mat Mahoney said in reference to his offense's narrow 6-0 lead at intermission. "Our offense finally settled in and executed almost perfectly in the second half."
SWARMING CARDINALS — Fairmont defensive tackle Kory Brown wraps up Worthington quarterback Blake Schroeder (2) as Cardinal teammates Tadd Abel (75), Luke Becker (3), Joe Weber (22), Zach Brown (51) and Cole Emler (4) defend on the play during season-opening nonconference football action Friday night at Mahoney Field in Fairmont. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
After linebacker Jay Ruen and Fairmont's defense forced a three-and-out opening sequence to start the third quarter, Chirpich commanded the red-and-white's air attack to strike paydirt during the hometown lineup's first three possessions of the second half.
Chirpich spotted sure-handed split end Luke Becker early and often during the nine-play, 56-yard offensive march downfield. Chirpich and Becker hooked up for completions of 19, 7 and 15 yards, respectively, before the lethal connection capped the scoring drive with an 11-yard strike for a 12-0 lead with 5:57 left in the third.
"Once he had pass protection, Chirp was spot on in hitting his receivers, and they, in turn, made the key plays by catching what he threw," said Mahoney.
Defensive tackle Kory Brown and Fairmont stymied Worthington's next offensive series to force another punt, and Chirpich utilized his tight spirals to reach the end zone again.
Running back Ben Abel churned out 24 of his game-best 37 rushing yards, while Chirpich fired a 4-yard completion to Joe Weber before capping the scoring march with a 20-yarder to fleet-footed Josh Eversman. Eversman also garnered the opening half's only TD, gathering in a Chirpich aerial before sprinting the last 60 of the 84-yard six-point play with 10:20 left in the first frame.
Eversman's second TD in as many catches, followed by Kolin Kelly's PAT kick, extended the Cardinals' lead to 19-0 with only 4 seconds remaining in the third.
Tow delivered a quarterback sack for a 7-yard loss before end Luke Peterson dropped the Trojan running back for a 12-yard loss on third down to create another Worthington punt.
Chirpich then spread the field and the wealth with his passes during the next drive, firing a 23-yarder to Becker, a 15-yard strike to Abel and a 10-yard post completion to Ruen for the TD.
Kelly's PAT kick gave Fairmont a 26-0 lead with 6:59 remaining in regulation.
"We played hard-nosed defense tonight, especially in the red zone. Worthington had a couple of early opportunities inside our 20 and our defense stopped them cold," Mahoney said in reference to the Trojans' outstanding field position inside the Cardinals' territory on the heels of fumble recoveries by Peter Abraham and Zach Kempema during the second quarter.
Cole Emler produced a clutch interception in the end zone for a touchback to stymie one of Worthington's early drives.
Becker pocketed a game-best eight catches for 81 yards and one TD for the Cardinals.
Fairmont (1-0) faces Marshall at 7 p.m. next Friday night at Southwest Minnesota State University.
Worthington (0-1) hits the road to Luverne next Friday night for a Southwest Conference clash.
Madelia 50, Renville County West 13 - The Blackhawks cruised past the Jaguars 50-13 in a Southern Minnesota Confederacy League game on Friday night in Renville.
Blackhawks' quarterback Kyle Schultz completed 12 of 16 passes for 169 yards and four touchdowns, in addition to running for a 9-yard score to help the visitors down the Jaguars.
Derrick Van Hee scored a pair of touchdowns on 12- and 2-yard runs, respectively.
Jack Bergeman and Jake Denn each caught two passes for touchdowns. Bergeman and Denn made 12 and eight tackles, respectively.
Bergeman also caught an interception and Denn recorded a pair of sacks.
Defensive end Zach Baumgartner made four sacks for the Blackhawks' defense.
Madelia (1-0) plays host to Nicollet in another Southern Minnesota Confederacy League game at 7 p.m. next Friday in Madelia.