FAIRMONT - Fairmont and New Ulm are heading in opposite directions as the prep football postseason nears.
Mentor Mat Mahoney's Cardinals venture to Johnson Field in New Ulm tonight for an 8 p.m. kickoff against second-year head coach Tony Ortmann and the hometown Eagles during the state's annual Education Minnesota Week regular-season finale.
While Fairmont (5-2) enters its final South Central Conference clash on a three-game winning streak, New Ulm faces the challenge of halting its 11-game winless streak, including an 0-7 mark this fall.
"We have to come out in the first quarter with the same mindset and the same intensity as we did against Blue Earth (Area)," Mahoney said in reference to his lineup's early 19-0 lead over the Bucs en route to a pivotal 40-22 victory on Friday night. "We can't have a letdown during a quick turnaround in a short week.
"I think New Ulm has been plagued by a number of injuries this season and their record reflects that. After watching their film against Waseca, one of their best athletes - running back Jackson Yackley - didn't play, and they've had to use a couple of different guys at quarterback this season."
The Cardinals, however, have not been immune to injuries as senior split end Luke Becker and senior defensive tackle Kory Brown were "dinged up" during Week 7, according to Mahoney.
"Neither one of them will start for us, but we (coaching staff) know Hawk (Michael Hawkins) and Cole Emler will do a good job for us at those spots (defensive tackle and split end, respectively)."
If the sure-handed Becker - 48 catches for 592 yards and seven touchdowns - is not suited up tonight, junior quarterback Spencer Chirpich will still have split end Josh Eversman and tight end Jay Ruen to throw spirals to, in addition to a vastly-improved ground game to move the chains.
Senior running back Derek Edman produced his second consecutive 100-yard rushing performance on Friday night, while freshman fullback Chris Fausch pounded out an additional 40 yards on seven totes.
New Ulm's 3-4 defensive scheme, spearheaded by outside linebacker Andrew Stewart and nose guard Tevin Mooter, however, will still have to protect against Fairmont's lethal air attack as its first priority.
Chirpich has amassed 1,500 yards and 23 TDs - including a single-game school mark of six only five days ago - behind 103-for-185 passing, while Eversman already holds a tie for second all-time in receiving scores with Adam Schultz by garnering 11 TDs to complement 710 yards this fall.
Former FHS standout Bryce Holm holds the single-season receiving TD mark of 12 set in 2011. Ironically, Eversman matched Holm's single-game school record of four TD catches against Blue Earth Area during Week 7.
Fairmont enters its regular-season finale with a 26.4-point scoring clip, while allowing just 16.6 points per outing. New Ulm averages a mere 10.3 points on offense, while surrendering a clip of 35.0 per game.
Despite the Cardinals' statistical edge over the Eagles on paper, Fairmont can look to two key factors to stay focused and motivated for tonight's game.
Mahoney's roster can lock up second place in the SCC - behind undefeated and Class 4A, No. 6-ranked Waseca (7-0, 5-0) - with a victory, in addition to likely securing either the No. 1 or 2 seed in the Section 3AAA playoffs and with that, a first-round postseason bye next Tuesday night.
Ironically, New Ulm's motivation behind a victory tonight comes in the form of possibly climbing out of the sixth and final spot in the Section 2AAAA playoff picture.