No. 9 Fairmont hosts Sibley East in semis

FAIRMONT – Contrasting offensive styles.

Class AAA, No. 9-ranked Fairmont (6-2) will pit its high-octane air attack against Sibley East’s ground-and-pound offense (4-5) when the two Section 3 football teams clash in today’s 2 p.m. semifinal at Mahoney Field.

“We’re not a deceptive offense – what you see is what you get,” the No. 6-seeded Wolverines’ head coach Chuck Hartman said in reference to his run-geared, double-tight end set. “If you remember the offense that (former Fairmont and New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva head coach) Jim Simser ran, ours resembles that. We mostly run power-I, iso and double dive out of the wishbone.”

Quarterback Brody Rodning, a 6-foot-1, 165-pound senior, literally puts Sibley East’s potent ground game in motion behind an offensive line that averages a staggering 244 pounds per blocker.

“That’s their strength – controlling the line of scrimmage on offense with their tremendous size upfront. They like to methodically run the football and use up a lot of time,” said the No. 2-seeded Cardinals’ mentor Mat Mahoney.

Center Donovan Swanson – the lightest Wolverine lineman at 190 pounds – along with tackles Tanner Kurtzweg and Arvin Latchman, and guards Cordell Bates and Jaden Podratz – a 6-2, 260-pound eighth-grader – will look to create running room for senior halfback Erik Danielson.

Danielson – Sibley East’s all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns – generated 181 yards and one TD on 33 carries to complement a 12-yard scoring catch to help power the Wolverines to a 21-6 upset over No. 3-seeded St. Peter during Tuesday night’s sectional quarterfinal.

“He’s a two-year starter for us at running back, rushing for 1,375 yards last year, and goes into (today’s) game with 1,330 yards on the ground,” Hartman said in reference to his 5-9, 185-pound senior standout.

While Sibley East favors a ground-and-pound offensive philosophy at an 88 percent clip – 460 running plays compared to just 60 passing attempts this season, Fairmont has generated 67 percent of its total yardage through the air this fall.

“After breaking down film on them, Fairmont looks like they run the ball well and throw the ball even better,” said Hartman. “It looks like a balanced offense.”

While the Cardinals have generated 843 yards and six TDs on 219 rushes, the red-and-white air express has produced a staggering 1,690 yards and 27 TDs via 199 passes.

Junior quarterback Spencer Chirpich has connected on 111 of 194 throws for an incredible 57 percent en route to all of Fairmont’s passing TDs, 1,650 yards and only five interceptions this campaign.

In fact, Chirpich established the program’s single-game passing TD record of six, in addition to producing a career-best 271 yards, during a 40-22 regular-season victory over rival Blue Earth Area on Oct. 11 at Wilson Field in Blue Earth.

While senior linebackers Tim Tow and Jay Ruen have helped the Cardinals to a plus-8 edge in turnover ratio – 20-to-12 – this season, that has not been the case for senior linebacker Colton Bates and the Wolverines’ defense.

While Bates did convert a St. Peter fumble into a 75-yard recovery-and-return to generate Sibley East’s initial six points of their postseason opener only four days ago, the Wolverines have not been on the plus side in that statistical category this fall.

“Overall, we’re probably on the negative side in turnover ratio this season. In fact, we had seven turnovers versus Jordan during Week 2,” said Hartman. “Those (turnovers) have been our Achilles’ heel in every one of our losses this season.”

Sibley East, however, created a plus-4 margin in turnover ratio at St. Peter’s expense in the playoffs by garnering three interceptions and scooping up two fumbles, while losing one fumble back to the Saints.

In fact, the Wolverines secured their 21-6 postseason victory over the Saints by converting St. Peter’s fumbled punt into Rodning’s 12-yard TD strike to Danielson with only 3 minutes remaining in regulation on Tuesday night.

“As in all playoff games, every possession is important, and you have to take advantage of every opportunity you get,” said Mahoney, whose lineup closed out a 42-0 regular-season victory over New Ulm on Oct. 16 with a 5-to-0 turnover edge.

While Sibley East logged 48 minutes at Floyd B. Johnson Field in St. Peter to reach today’s sectional semifinal, Fairmont used the extra time off to recuperate for the postseason.

“The first-round bye definitely allowed us to get a number of our players healthier for (today’s) game, and gave us some time to recharge,” said Mahoney.

Senior split end Luke Becker, who missed the Cardinals’ regular-season finale due to an injury, will rejoin record-setting 6-4 senior wideout Josh Eversman in the passing lanes. Becker tops Fairmont’s offense with 48 catches en route to 592 yards and seven TDs this season.

Eversman, however, has produced a team-best 803 yards on 40 receptions en route to the program’s all-time single-season receiving TD mark of 13. Eversman also grabbed four scoring strikes from Chirpich during Fairmont’s regular-season win over Blue Earth Area during Week 7.

Eversman’s four receiving TDs in a game tied the program’s record set by former Cardinal standout Bryce Holm during the 2011 Class AAA state championship game in the Metrodome.

So, which offense will prove the stronger – Fairmont’s passing attack or Sibley East’s ground game?

“Now it comes down to execution in all three phases of the game – not just offense – and limiting your mistakes,” said Mahoney.