FAIRMONT - Class AAA, No. 9-ranked Fairmont clicked on all cylinders on offense, defense and special teams to earn its second appearance in the Section 3 championship in the past three years.
The Joe Weber- and Tim Tow-led defense defused Sibley East's high-powered ground game, quarterback Spencer Chirpich rewrote the record books again, while Jay Ruen and Kolin Kelly highlighted special-teams action to guide the Cardinals to a 30-6 playoff victory over the Wolverines on Saturday.
No. 2-seeded Fairmont (7-2) travels to Belle Plaine on Friday night for a 7 p.m. sectional showdown with the Class AAA, No. 7-ranked and No. 1-seeded Tigers. Belle Plaine reached the state-qualifying clash by defeating 2012 state champion Blue Earth Area, 33-7.
HIGH-STEPPING TO SIX — Fairmont split end Josh Eversman (5) high-steps out of the grasp of Sibley East defensive back Brody Rodning (4) before sprinting away from the Wolverines’ Austin Stadler (2) for a touchdown during Saturday’s Section 3AAA football semifinal game at Mahoney Field in Fairmont. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
No. 6-seeded Sibley East ended its season with a 4-6 record.
"Actually, I think we're getting better in all three phases of the game as the season progresses," said Cardinal mentor Mat Mahoney. "Our special teams delivered a blocked punt, in addition to kicking a field goal, while our offense moved the ball equally effective both on the ground (123 yards) and through the air (164).
"Our defense did a great job of bending but not breaking, and kept them (the Wolverines) off the scoreboard until late in the fourth quarter."
Tow, Weber & Co. set the sectional semifinal's tone early by limiting hard-churning Wolverine running back Erik Danielson to four yards on a third-and-5 to force a punt during the game-opening series.
Chirpich and Eversman then took the first steps toward etching their respective names into the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively, in the Fairmont record books during the hometown offense's initial possession at Mahoney Field.
After Chirpich, who completed 12 of 14 passes for 164 yards, zipped a 4-yard quick strike to Luke Becker in the left flat, the Cardinal junior quarterback threaded the needle to Eversman for a 58-yard touchdown strike with 9:10 remaining in the opening quarter.
Chirpich tied former Fairmont standout Ben Kain's single-season TD passing mark of 28, while Eversman generated the bulk of his 83 yards receiving on the game with the catch. Chirpich added two more scoring strikes through the air to extend the program's new mark to 30, while Eversman reached 886 in receiving yardage to eclipse former Cardinal standout Bryce Holm (884) for the No. 2 spot all-time. Adam Schultz holds Fairmont's top receiving yardage mark of 920 set in 2010.
"He's our sparkplug on offense," Mahoney said in reference to Chirpich. "He knows where to go with the football, and can deliver it into some tight spaces."
After end Nick Roggow, tackle Kory Brown and Fairmont's defense forced two more Sibley East punts, Chirpich and the Cardinal offense did not have much real estate to cover to notch their second TD of the game.
Ruen stretched out to block the Wolverines' punt to regain possession for Fairmont at the Sibley East 18. Chirpich then rewarded Ruen for his special-teams gem by firing the ensuing scoring strike to the senior tight end for one of his game-best six catches. Kolin Kelly kicked his second of three PATs to double the Cardinals' lead to 14-0 with 10:56 left before halftime.
Tow, who recorded the program's No. 2 single-game mark of 28 tackles, and Roggow combined to slam the brakes on the Wolverines' time-consuming march on a fourth-and-4 situation at Fairmont's 13 with 5:17 remaining in the second quarter.
Chirpich's passing and the 1-2 rushing tandem of Derek Edman and Chris Fausch pressed the Sibley East defense's backs to the goal line before the Wolverines held on a fourth-and-goal from the 5 right before intermission.
Tow, Roggow and Weber spearheaded Fairmont's defensive stand to create a third-quarter punt by Sibley East before Edman pounded out 35 of his team-best 69 rushing yards to reach the visitors' 5. Chirpich then fired a 5-yard TD spiral to Becker before Kelly's kick widened the gap to 21-0 with 2:11 left in the third.
Danielson, who hammered out a game-best 176 rushing yards, engineered the Wolverines' ensuing march that reached the Cardinals' 17. Tow, end Luke Peterson and Co. jarred the football loose on the next snap and Weber scooped it up and raced 87 yards the other way for six more points with 8:41 left in regulation.
Parker Monsen's first interception of the season set up Kelly's 25-yard field goal that extended Fairmont's lead to 30-0 with 3:45 left in the game. Kelly's field goal was the first for the red-and-white since Logan Peymann's 3-pointer against Blue Earth Area on Oct. 9, 2009.
Danielson broke loose for a 60-yard TD sprint during the next series to cap the playoff game's scoring.
Belle Plaine 33, Blue Earth Area 7 - The Class AAA, No. 7-ranked Tigers posted a 33-7 postseason victory over the Bucs on Saturday in Belle Plaine to advance to the Section 3 championship game.
Top-seeded Belle Plaine (8-1), which earned a first-round bye, plays host to No. 9-ranked and No. 2-seeded Fairmont (7-2) at 7 p.m. Friday night in Belle Plaine for the right to advance to the state quarterfinals.
Blue Earth Area, the 2012 Class AAA state champion, ended its season with a 6-4 record.
Gavin Dauwalter crossed the goal line on runs of 3 and 1 yard, respectively, to help the Tigers scratch out a 12-0 lead by halftime.
Quarterback Luke Narveson produced a 3-yard touchdown run in the third quarter for Belle Plaine, before linebacker Zach Bahr returned a Blue Earth Area fumble 56 yards for six points. Narveson completed the ensuing 2-point conversion pass to Brady Johnson.
Running back Christopher Holmbeck broke away for a 30-yard scoring run to cap Belle Plaine's scoring in the third quarter.
Blue Earth Area running back David Franta delivered a 1-yard touchdown run during the fourth quarter, with Justus Thelen kicking the PAT for the Bucs.
Luke Schavey completed 3 of 14 passes for 49 yards and topped the Bucs with 43 yards on eight carries.
Franta gained 31 yards on nine totes, Gus Phillips caught two passes for 43 yards, while Justin Ritter made one grab for six yards.
Franta recorded a quarterback sack to top BEA's defense.