JACKSON - The Old Oaken Bucket now sits in the Jackson County Central High School's trophy case after a 34-year absence.
The Huskies' three-pronged attack of Keegan Moore, Paden Moore and Demonte Thomas amassed 303 yards and four touchdowns on the ground to fuel a 43-20 Big South Conference football victory over the Fairmont Cardinals during Thursday night's season-opener at Swearingen Field in Jackson.
Keegan Moore, a 5-foot-11, 204-pound junior running back, need only two touches during the game-opening offensive series to hit paydirt. Moore took the delayed handoff from quarterback Joe Brinkman, cut left, broke a tackle, slashed right and motored for 51 of his game-best 180 yards.
CLEARING A PATH — Fairmont tailback Thomas Willett (45) sprints into open space created by Cardinal center Luis Figueroa’s block on Jackson County Central’s Brandon Schmit (74) and Cardinal offensive tackle Bailey Koppen’s block on the Huskies’ Andrew Rasmussen (77) during season-opening Big South Conference football action Thursday night at Swearingen Field in Jackson. (Photo by Leanna Becker)
The 2014 Greco-Roman national wrestling champion then hammered over the left side for the 2-point conversion to stake JCC to an early 8-0 lead.
"Jackson County Central IS the real deal. Their offensive line is big and physical, and then you put one of the best backs in the state behind them, and they're pretty tough to beat," Fairmont mentor Mat Mahoney said in reference to Keegan Moore.
The youthful Cardinals, however, countered during the ensuing series behind the 1-2 running punch of sophomore tailback Thomas Willett and sophomore fullback Chris Fausch to reach JCC's real estate.
Fairmont senior quarterback Spencer Chirpich then delivered a strike on a pivotal fourth-and-22 situation to whittle the Huskies' lead to two points. Chirpich rolled right and fired a 32-yard scoring strike to split end Ben Abel, but the conversion run failed to leave the Cardinals trailing 8-6 with 5:29 remaining in the opening quarter.
"Offensively, we did a good job of moving the ball," Mahoney said in reference to the red-and-white lineup's 317 yards of total offense. "We just shot ourselves in the foot by committing a penalty or a turnover after a big gain.
"Our inexperience was exposed a bit tonight, but we'll be OK and be ready for our next game."
Keegan Moore and Thomas combined to cover the final 44 of JCC's ensuing 66-yard scoring drive, and never trailed for the duration. Moore's battering 14-yard run moved the Huskies to the Cardinals' 30 before Thomas scampered right and broke a couple of tackles to reach the end zone. Andrew Hesse kicked the PAT for a 15-6 lead with 2:14 left in the first frame.
Keegan Moore also proved a stalwart at linebacker, spearheading JCC's defensive stand that regained possession via a punt return to its 49.
Keegan Moore steamrolled over the left side, shredded a tackle, spun and crossed the goal line from 27 yards out only five snaps later. Paden Moore, who finished with 82 yards on eight totes, capped the scoring drive with the 2-point run for a 23-6 edge with 10:15 left in the second quarter.
After linebacker Ben Abel and tackle Carlos Sauceda engineered the Cardinals' late defensive stand, Chirpich marched the Fairmont offense downfield by hitting split end Levi Bulfer for a 7-yard completion and a 23-yarder to Abel to reach the 49 with less than a minute left before intermission.
Unfortunately for Chirpich, his spiral bounced off his receiver's hands and into the awaiting fingers of Husky defensive back Ryan Salzwedel, who sprinted 53 yards along the JCC sideline for a pick-six. Hesse kicked the PAT for a 30-6 edge with 37 seconds remaining.
Willett, who finished with a team-best 107 yards on 15 carries, displayed his speed by motoring around the left end before accelerating down the Fairmont sideline 70 yards to the first TD of his varsity career. Willett then took the 2-point toss around the left side to slice the Cardinals' deficit to 30-14 with just 15 ticks showing on the scoreboard.
Rodney Engstrom recovered the ensuing onside kick for Fairmont, but the Cardinals ran out of time before halftime.
Salzwedel then displayed his pass-catching skill on the other side of the line of scrimmage, grabbing Brinkman's 50-yard scoring strike with 7:06 left in the third period.
Thomas capped JCC's point production by scoring on a 5-yard run with 8:48 remaining in regulation.
Fullback Colton Cunning then delivered 52 yards on four totes to set up Kale Fritz's 3-yard TD catch from quarterback Tyler Tennyson at the 2:21 juncture.
Luis Figueroa and Nate Johnson pocketed fumble recoveries for the Cardinals, while Avery Henderson and Zach Holm delivered an interception and a fumble recovery, respectively, for the Huskies.
Fairmont (0-1, 0-1 Big South) hosts Pipestone Area at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 5, while JCC (1-0, 1-0) hosts Luverne on Sept. 5.