Cards, Huskies to clash for Oaken Bucket

JACKSON – Roll back the calendar to Oct. 28, 2006 – the final Section 3AAA football semifinal score: Jackson County Central 43, Fairmont 14.

One month earlier, the Cardinals upended the No. 1-ranked Huskies, 33-22, during a regular-season game within the now-defunct Southern Minnesota Alliance.

Fast forward to tonight, and the two gridiron powerhouses square off at 7 p.m. in a season-opening showdown in Jackson in the newly-configured Big South Conference – a merger between the former South Central and Southwest conferences.

However, there is an extra incentive to capturing tonight’s I-90 football clash – the old oaken bucket.

“I’m assuming it’s (bucket) still up for grabs, although we didn’t get it back when we beat Fairmont the last time we played,” JCC head coach Tom Schuller said with a chuckle.

Unfortunately for the Huskies, the unwritten lore behind the bucket is that the coveted prize only exchanges hands via a regular-season victory.

“This game actually has a great tradition that goes back a long ways, but since we haven’t played them in such a long time, a lot of people don’t know about the oaken bucket,” said Fairmont mentor Mat Mahoney, who took over the Cardinals’ football program in 2007 – the year after the titans’ previous two clashes.

Prior to the 2006 games, the last time Fairmont and then Jackson High School played on the prep gridiron was 1980.

“We had better cherish this game since it might be the last time we play each other with the high school league switching us to district play next fall,” said Schuller. “It will definitely be a good early test for us.”

Mahoney echoed his coaching counterpart’s pregame critique.

“Jackson’s a tough, physical team, and we’re facing the best (running) back in the conference in Keegan Moore,” Mahoney said in reference to the 5-foot-11, 204-pound junior, who was tabbed as the 2013 Southwest Conference offensive back of the year. “He and his brother (5-10, 180-pound senior fullback Paden Moore) really set the tone for them offensively.

“It’s no secret what they’ll do – pound the football with the Moore brothers behind a big stout offensive line. Tackling them will be a must.”

Ironically, JCC’s 4-3 defensive alignment might face a Fairmont offensive attack geared more toward the run. Sophomore fullback Chris Fausch and sophomore tailback Thomas Willett will look to follow running room created by a Cardinal offensive line – tackles Bailey Koppen (300 pounds) and Kade Fritz (230), guards Mitch Anderton (245) and Zachary Ramos (245), and center Luis Figueroa (225) – that averages 249 pounds per blocker.

Despite an impressive sized Fairmont frontline and two up-and-coming young rushers, Schuller is still prepared to face Mahoney’s trademark passing game.

“I expect Fairmont to throw the ball with (Spencer) Chirpich returning at quarterback. I don’t know what the health status of his arm is, but he’s one of the most accurate passers I’ve ever seen at the high school level,” Schuller said in reference to the Cardinals’ senior signal-caller, who completed 58 percent of his spirals for 2,121 yards and 33 TDs last fall.

So, what’s the key to exiting the Jackson field with the oaken bucket in hand?

“We have a completely-rebuilt offensive line, so it’ll come down to getting off the snap count quickly and in synch,” said Schuller. “The only thing I really know for sure is that we have two red-headed Moore kids who are tough to tackle.”

“Which ever defense can stop the other team’s running attack is key, but limiting turnovers and penalties also will be huge overall,” said Mahoney.