Fairmont to host Worthington in opener

FAIRMONT – Serving as both head football coach and activities director, Fairmont’s Mat Mahoney will closely monitor the heat index today when his Cardinals play host to the Worthington Trojans in the two teams’ traditional 7:30 p.m. season-opener at Mahoney Field.

“The heat will definitely have an impact on the game. It’ll be a much different pace in the first quarter than by the fourth,” Mahoney said in reference to a forecast for 85 degrees and 53 percent humidity at kickoff time. “Which ever team stays freshest the longest will have a leg up, literally.”

Mahoney has penciled in six starters for double duty during the non-league clash, while Worthington mentor Brad Grimmius’ lineup features five gridders playing on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

“I think our depth, especially on the defensive line, will help us handle the heat. We can rotate eight guys, so hopefully, that won’t be a real factor,” said Mahoney.

Like his coaching counterpart, Grimmius will utilize a number of players during tonight’s fall premier not only to counter a searing heat index, but to evaluate the Trojans’ overall depth.

“We want to give a lot of looks to a number of players to see where we’re at,” said Grimmius. “Ironically, your opening-day starting lineup gradually changes here and there as the season progresses. By the time the playoffs roll around, it (lineup) is usually different than the one you started with.”

And Grimmius knows that theory to be true from a first-hand perspective as Worthington’s opening-day quarterback in 2012 – Will Dudley – will serve in a different capacity tonight at Mahoney Field.

Blake Schroeder, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound senior, will handle the signal-calling duties under veteran center Carson Hagen, while the 6-4, 180-pound Dudley will take handoffs from a running back position.

Troy Ektnitphong, a 6-0, 170-pound junior, will join Schroeder and Dudley in the backfield by returning to his starting fullback spot after fueling the Trojans’ ground game a year ago.

“He (Ektnitphong) runs hard, follows his blockers and blocks well at fullback, while (tight end/defensive end) Trevor Wietzema is literally a handful (6-3, 255 pounds) to deal with on both sides of the ball,” said Mahoney.

The Cardinals will look to put the clamps on the Trojans’ talented trio by returning three out of their four-man defensive wall from a year ago in two-way starters Nick Roggow and Bailey Koppen, along with Kory Brown.

“I like our size up front on both sides of the ball. Now we’ll see how it all comes together,” said Mahoney. “Offensively, we need to eliminate any early mistakes, and do what we do by sticking to the principles.”

The 6-3, 205-pound Roggow and senior Zach Brown each return to their starting guard spots in the Cardinals’ retooled offensive line, 6-5, 242-pound senior Tadd Abel and the 6-4, 278-pound Koppen will fill the tackle positions, while sophomore Luis Figueroa will handle the snapping duties.

Junior Spencer Chirpich, Fairmont’s No. 3 quarterback a year ago, will put his strong arm to the test in finding fleet-footed split ends Luke Becker and Josh Eversman, along with sure-handed tight end Jay Ruen.

“Defensively, we kept our 4-4 base that we switched to about halfway through last season, but we’ve changed our personnel around,” said Grimmius. “We’ve spent more time on executing what (defensive scheme) we’re in and making the right reads.

“If we do both of those things, we should be competitive and good things can happen.”

Obviously, both coaches want to exit Mahoney Field with a victory on their respective sides of the ledger, but Mahoney and Grimmius also agreed that staying relatively injury-free without committing turnovers and/or penalties are positive steps toward a successful season.

“We got banged up early and often last fall and it made for a tough season,” said Mahoney. “Our first priority is to stay healthy while executing our game plans in all three phases for four quarters.”

“Every team in the state is looking for a win (tonight), but we just want to compete to the best of our abilities and come out of it healthy,” said Grimmius. “There’s been a positive change in this team’s attitude from last year to now and that’s nice to see.

“You can have all the right Xs and Os, but you also have to have good leadership on and off the field to go with it in order to be truly successful.”