FAIRMONT - Home, sweet home.
All three of the South Central Conference teams - Fairmont, Blue Earth Area and St. Peter - in Section 3AAA will kick off the football playoffs at the friendly confines of Mahoney, Wilson and Floyd B. Johnson fields, respectively.
Despite generating a 63.8-61.2 edge over Class AAA, No. 1-ranked Belle Plaine (7-1) in the QRF rankings, Fairmont head coach Mat Mahoney and his Cardinals (6-2) received the No. 2 seed via the www.minnesota-scores.net's tiebreaking criteria.
MARCHING TO THE PLAYOFFS — Fairmont running back Derek Edman finds running room between Blue Earth Area’s Kellen Jacobs (left) and Derek Johnson (11) as Cardinal tight end Jay Ruen and the Fairmont linemen block during regular-season football action last Friday night at Wilson Field in Blue Earth. The Cardinals earned the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Section 3AAA playoffs, while the Bucs netted the No. 4 seed for the postseason. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
"If the final margin is less than 4 percent, then the top seed is determined by the QRF's tiebreaking criteria such as head-to-head games, etc.," said Mahoney. "Belle Plaine had a better overall record than we did, so they are No. 1.
"We still earned a first-round bye at No. 2, so I like how we're sitting in the section playoff bracket."
Indeed. Fairmont sits out Tuesday night's quarterfinal and awaits the winner between St. Peter mentor Brian Odland's No. 3-seeded Saints (5-3) and Sibley East head coach Chuck Hartman's No. 6-seeded Wolverines (3-5). The Cardinals host the 2 p.m. sectional semifinal on Saturday, Oct. 26, in Fairmont.
In the other half of the six-team sectional bracket, Belle Plaine head coach Justin Johnston's Tigers host either Blue Earth Area mentor Randy Kuechenmeister's No. 4-seeded Bucs (5-3) or Worthington head coach Brad Grimmius' No. 5-seeded Trojans (3-5) at 2 p.m. next Saturday in Belle Plaine.
"I think we're fortunate to have earned some time off this week, and the bye will help us recharge our battery and get fully healthy again," Mahoney said in reference to senior split end Luke Becker and senior defensive tackle Kory Brown, who did not play in the Cardinals' 42-0 rout over New Ulm during Wednesday night's regular-season finale.
While Fairmont merited a nine-day respite, SCC rivals St. Peter and Blue Earth Area will prepare for their respective 7 p.m. quarterfinal clashes on Tuesday night.
"You have to play better than the team you're playing on that given night if you want to advance in the playoffs. Personally, I'd like to keep playing," Kuechenmeister said with a laugh.
Senior flanker Gus Phillips, senior wideout David Franta and junior quarterback Luke Schavey will look to move the first-down markers on offense for Kuechenmeister's Bucs against the Trojans during Tuesday's sectional opener at Wilson Field.
Phillips churned out 145 yards and four touchdowns on 17 carries to fuel Blue Earth Area's 42-14 triumph over St. James during Wednesday night's regular-season finale in St. James.
The hard-nosed Franta and Schavey contributed 60 and 46 yards, respectively, to the Bucs' potent ground game that generated 321 rushing yards.
Trevor Zierke, Bailey Olson and Jacob Johnson garnered interceptions to spearhead Blue Earth Area's defensive performance at the Saints' expense.
If Blue Earth Area eliminates Worthington, Kuechenmeister & Co. will look to put the clamps on Belle Plaine sophomore quarterback Luke Narveson and the Tigers' lethal air attack. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound Narveson has completed 88 of 170 passes for a staggering 1,700 yards and 12 TDs this fall.
In the other Section 3AAA quarterfinal clash on Tuesday night, Odland's No. 3-seeded Saints will look to oust the No. 6-seeded Wolverines behind the steady throwing arm and strong running legs of senior quarterback Tommy Steidler.
The 6-4, 202-pound Steidler proved a triple threat during St. Peter's 33-16 upset victory over Class AAA, No. 3-ranked New London-Spicer on Wednesday night. The Saints' signal-caller amassed 173 yards and two TDs on 21 carries, threw once for 32 yards and caught a 16-yard scoring strike from split end Cody Erickson to pace the regular-season finale win.
Senior running back Keegan McCabe contributed 85 rushing yards and one TD to St. Peter's offensive performance, while the Saints' defense created six turnovers, including five interceptions.
"Hopefully, the momentum from (Wednesday night's) win over New London (Spicer) will carry over into the playoffs for us," said Odland. "Now we need to put together a game plan to get off to a fast start on Tuesday night, and hopefully, we'll earn the right to be playing again on (next Saturday)."
If St. Peter advances to the sectional semifinals, the Saints' defense will be put to the test by Fairmont junior quarterback Spencer Chirpich; the Cardinals' three-pronged receiving core of record-setting Josh Eversman, Luke Becker and Jay Ruen; and the vastly-improved rushing tandem of Derek Edman and Chris Fausch.
Chirpich has connected on 111 of 194 passes for an incredible 1,650 yards and 27 TDs, including four scores and 150 yards during one half of action against New Ulm on Wednesday night.
Fairmont leading tackler Tim Tow and the red-and-white defense also displayed their skills by creating five turn-overs, including interceptions by Jack Waletich and Eversman, in addition to fumble recoveries by Ruen, Cole Emler and Steven Krumholz.
The Section 3AAA championship game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. kickoff Friday, Nov. 1, at the highest remaining seed's home field.