FHS opens SCC slate vs. No. 9 Waseca

FAIRMONT – What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

That paradox could become reality when Waseca mentor Brad Wendland and his Class 4A, No. 9-ranked Bluejays (3-0) square off against Fairmont head coach Mat Mahoney and his unranked Cardinals (2-1) at 7 p.m. Friday night at Mahoney Field.

“Our South Central Conference opener will be a pivotal game against a tough opponent who’s off to a 3-0 start, including a key (48-24) conference win over St. Peter last Friday night,” said Mahoney. “Waseca has tremendous size, good speed and are well-coached.”

The small college-sized offensive front five – 6-foot-4, 245-pound center Jordan Altman, guards Jake Busse (6-3, 250) and Dylan Winegar (6-1, 215), and tackles Devin Williamson (6-4, 285) and Joel Miller (6-6, 250) – have provided primetime pass protection and opened holes in opposing defenses to help the Bluejays generate 41 points per outing.

“We’ve got a tall group of offensive linemen this year,” Wendland said in reference to blockers averaging nearly 6-4 and 250 pounds per player. “This group has really stepped up this fall. We (coaching staff) taught them a lot of new schemes and they seem to be getting better each week.

“We’ve been known as a run-heavy offense in the past, but now we have the ability to pass as equally well due to our personnel.”

Senior split end Lucas Johnson has displayed his sure hands in catching 20 passes for 230 yards, but was hardly alone during last Friday’s SCC victory over St. Peter. Tight end Tyler Kolander made four catches for 103 yards and a TD, while Jacob Laube and J.P. Eykyn rotated into the wideout mix to supply five and four receptions, respectively.

Now, Fairmont’s stingy defense, which has allowed an average of just 11 points per game, will literally face its biggest challenge.

Inside linebacker Tim Tow, who’s averaged double-digit tackle totals, and the Cardinals’ 4-4 defensive alignment will look to put the clamps on multi-tasking Bluejay quarterback Thomas O’Neil.

“Elusive,” Mahoney said in reference to the 6-1, 190-pound Waseca signal-caller. “He does a good job of both running and passing the football, so we’ll have to stop their big-play ability.”

Mahoney’s pre-game analysis proved as accurate as O’Neil’s 60-percent completion rate. The senior quarterback has connected on 45 of 75 throws for 728 yards and eight touchdowns. But O’Neil’s skills do not stop there as he’s rushed for 422 yards and seven TDs this fall.

But the ability to throw accurately for impressive yardage is not limited to the talented O’Neil on Friday night as Fairmont junior quarterback Spencer Chirpich has completed 52 of 100 passes for 618 yards and nine TDs this season.

“In terms of passing the football, Fairmont likely will be the best team that we’ll see all season,” said Wendland.

Senior split end Luke Becker already has hauled in a team-leading 23 receptions for 206 yards and two scores, while senior wideout Josh Eversman has amassed a team-best 278 receiving yards and three TDs via 16 catches. Senior tight end Jay Ruen has contributed five receptions for 82 yards and a pair of scores.

Despite having generated three times as much yardage through the air than on the ground this fall, senior running back Derek Edman breathed some new life into Fairmont’s running game last week by gaining 81 yards on only eight carries.

“We have to move the chains this Friday night more efficiently than we have during our first three games of the season,” said Mahoney. “It’s as simple as that if we want to have a chance to win this week’s game.”