Fairmont travels to St. Peter for key tilt

ST. PETER – At the proverbial crossroads.

When the Fairmont football team ventures to Floyd B. Johnson Field in St. Peter on Friday night, both the visiting Cardinals and host St. Peter Saints will have a lot at stake during Week 5.

“It’s huge in regards to both the section and the conference,” Fairmont head coach Mat Mahoney said in reference to the 7 p.m. South Central gridiron showdown. “We’ve still got three regular-season games left after this Friday night, but this one is head-to-head against a sectional opponent and that’s significant when determining the QRF rankings.”

Indeed. Despite the fact that St. Peter mentor Brian Odland’s Saints hold a one-game edge – 3-1 to 2-2 – over the Cardinals in overall records, the minnesota-scores.net’s evaluation system ranks Fairmont as No. 3 (37.5) in Section 3AAA behind undefeated Belle Plaine and unbeaten Blue Earth Area. St. Peter currently sits in the No. 4 spot at 35.6.

“We’ve been talking all week about the huge playoff and conference implications of this game,” said Odland, whose team is coming off a 41-0 shutout of St. James last Friday night to improve to 2-1 in SCC play. “Our game against Fairmont will likely determine where we’re ranked in the QRF if Belle Plaine and Blue Earth (Area) win out the regular season.

“Obviously, Blue Earth (Area) playing at Waseca this Friday also will have a huge effect on both our section and conference standings.”

Waseca, which climbed two spots to No. 8 in this week’s Class 4A state rankings after a 43-27 victory over Fairmont a week ago, and Class 3A, No. 1-ranked Blue Earth Area are both 4-0 overall.

The Bluejays (2-0 SCC) have New Ulm (0-5, 0-2) and St. James (1-3, 0-1) remaining on their SCC schedule in Week 6 and 7, respectively. Meanwhile, the Bucs (1-0 SCC) would host St. Peter and Fairmont in back-to-back weeks at Wilson Field in Blue Earth before traveling to St. James for the regular-season finale on Oct. 16.

So, after contemplating the above scenarios, what’s the bottom line for both Mahoney and Odland on Friday night?

“We have to learn from last week’s performance against (Waseca quarterback) Thomas O’Neil,” said Mahoney. “We face another good-sized option quarterback in (Tom) Steidler, so our defense has to stick to its keys, wrap up on the tackle and play sound fundamental football.”

While Steidler and the running back rotation of Keegan McCabe and Derek Meyer can generate yards on the ground, the 6-foot-4, 202-pound senior quarterback also will utilize the air to connect with his two wideouts and pair of slotback receivers out of St. Peter’s spread offensive set.

Wideouts Brendan Reese and Brett Zallek each caught Steidler scoring spirals last Friday night, with slotbacks Cody Erickson and Ryan Hoehn also figuring into the passing game.

Ironically, St. Peter will face one of the top passing attacks in southern Minnesota when the Saints’ 3-5 stack defensive scheme attempts to shut down Fairmont junior quarterback Spencer Chirpich and his trio of sure-handed receivers: Luke Becker, Josh Eversman and Jay Ruen.

“We’ve talked to our secondary about not getting beat deep this week,” said Odland. “Our defensive line will look to contain Chirpich and keep him in the pocket. He’s dangerous when you let him get to the perimeter and square up to throw.”

Indeed. Chirpich has completed 66 of 129 passes for 883 yards and 12 TDs this fall.

“After watching film on Fairmont, our emphasis on defense has definitely been focused on shutting down their passing game,” said Odland.