BELLE PLAINE For the second time in the last three seasons, seventh-year Fairmont mentor Mat Mahoney and his Cardinal football team have reached the Class AAA state playoffs.
Roving linebacker Jay Ruen, linebacker Tim Tow and the Fairmont defense's quarterback sack-attack shut out Belle Plaine's high-powered offense, while Luke Becker made six catches for 97 yards and one touchdown, rushed for a TD and recovered a fumble to propel the No. 9-ranked Cardinals to a 26-0 victory over the No. 7-ranked Tigers during Friday night's Section 3 championship game in Belle Plaine.
Fairmont (8-2), who held the No. 5 spot in the final Class AAA QRF rankings, advances to face the Section 1 champion either No. 1-ranked and 2012 state runner-up Rochester Lourdes (8-1) or Cannon Falls (4-6) in the state quarterfinals at 7 p.m. next Friday night at Burnsville High School. Lourdes and Cannon Falls square off at 7 p.m. tonight in Kasson.
LOOSE?TREASURE — Fairmont's Luke Becker (far left) sees the loose football on the ground and prepares to recover it during the Section 3AAA championship game on Friday night at Tiger Field in Belle Plaine. Belle Plaine offensive lineman Taylor Ponath (73), Fairmont's Bailey Koppen (middle), Belle Plaine's Dylan O'Brien (71) and Tiger quarterback Luke Narveson watch the action. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
Belle Plaine ended its season with an 8-2 record.
"Our defense applied a lot of pressure and didn't allow their offense to get into a rhythm tonight," Mahoney said in reference to a Nick Roggow-led front foursome that triggered six sacks for a staggering minus-34 yards.
On paper, the Section 3 championship pitted a pair of 1,800-plus yard passing teams against one another, but on Tiger Field, both Fairmont and Belle Plaine's defenses delivered air-tight performances.
In fact, Tiger linebacker Ben Stier & Co. denied the Cardinals' high-octane offense an early scoring opportunity at the home team's 36-yard line following Fairmont defensive tackle Luis Figueroa's fumble recovery midway through the first quarter.
Figueroa and Roggow, however, combined on the first of Fairmont's six sacks on the night to pin Belle Plaine inside its own 5 only one possession later, forcing a Tiger punt that Becker returned to his opponents' 35.
Running back Derek Edman, who churned out a yeoman's 75 yards and one TD on 15 carries, pounded his way to the 21 before junior quarterback Spencer Chirpich went to the airwaves. Chirpich, who completed 10 of 22 passes for 135 yards, threaded the needle to the sure-handed Becker along the left sideline. Becker sidestepped a tackler and sprinted the final five of his 21-yard touchdown to stake the Cardinals to a 6-0 lead with 1:59 remaining in the opening quarter.
Becker scooped up a Tiger fumble on the first snap of the ensuing Belle Plaine series, but cornerback Brady Johnson delivered a momentum-halting sack to force a Fairmont punt near the end of the first frame.
Tow then delivered a pair of sacks totaling a loss of 14 yards to offset Tiger special-teams standout Derek Dahlke's 35-yard punt return and a personal-foul infraction on Fairmont that gained Belle Plaine its deepest penetration into Cardinal territory.
Both defenses pitched a shutout for the rest of the opening half before defensive tackle Bailey Koppen's quarterback sack stymied the Tigers' opening possession of the third quarter and forced a punt.
Chirpich drilled a 26-yard spiral to Becker along the left sideline before firing a 7-yard bullet to tight end Jay Ruen and a 22-yard missile to Becker to reach the 1. Becker covered the distance on a rare run over the right side to double Fairmont's lead to 12-0 with 6:47 left in the third.
Ruen and linebacker Joe Weber combined tackling forces to halt Tiger quarterback Luke Narveson's 36 yards worth of passes and create another Belle Plaine punting situation.
The Cardinals then utilized the three-pronged backfield attack of Edman, fullback Chris Fausch and running back Thomas Willett to trigger a 10-play, 60-yard scoring drive that devoured the rest of the third and early stages of the fourth quarter.
"Our offensive line really stepped it up, controlled the line of scrimmage and allowed us to run the ball, and burn time," said Mahoney. "That's what you have to do in order to close out winning a section championship."
Willett sprinted around the right side for eight yards to reach the 20 before Edman twisted, turned and broke tackles to fall just inches shy of the goal line. Fausch capped the time-consuming drive by plowing into the end zone from 1 yard out. Kolin Kelly kicked the PAT to extend the lead to 19-0 with 9:12 left in regulation.
Fausch then recorded another Cardinal sack from his nose guard spot on defense as Fairmont slammed the brakes on Belle Plaine's fourth-and-22 last-ditch pass. Edman then took Chirpich's toss around the left end and left nothing but a vapor trail on his TD from 14 yards out. Kelly's kick made it 26-0 with 6:42 remaining.
Narveson completed 12 of 25 passes for 105 yards to top Belle Plaine.
FMT 6 0 6 14 26
BP 0 0 0 0 0
F Luke Becker 21 pass from Spencer Chirpich (kick failed), 1:59.
F Becker 1 run (pass failed), 6:47.
F Chris Fausch 1 run (Kolin Kelly kick), 9:12.
F Derek Edman 14 run (Kelly kick), 6:42.
Rushing: FHS 30-88; Belle Plaine 34-38. Passing: FHS 10-22-1-135; BP 12-26-0-105. Fumbles-lost: FHS 1-0; BP 4-3. Penalties: FHS 4-48; BP 5-51.
Offense: Rushing: Derek Edman (F) 15-75; Ben Stier (BP) 7-25. Passing: Chirpich (F) 10-22-1-135; Narveson (BP) 12-25-0-105. Receptions: Becker (F) 6-97; Chase Emmers (BP) 4-40, Derek Dahlke (BP) 3-32.
Defense: Fumble recoveries: Luis Figueroa (F), Becker (F), Matt Lytle (F). Interception: Ben Stier (BP).