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Trojans football team falls to Fairmont in opener

Les Knutson

Daily Globe

FAIRMONT —After an evenly-played first half, with field position in Worthington’s favor most of time, Fairmont’s effective passing attack in the final two quarters stretched a 6-0 lead into a 26-0 season-opening high school football victory for the hosting Cardinals Friday night at Mahoney Field.

Fairmont scored on its third offensive play of the night, but a swarming Worthington defense stifled the Cardinals the rest of the game’s first 24 minutes, forcing a trio of punts and recovering a pair of fumbles.

Starting several drives with good field position, the Trojans moved the ball on the ground, twice getting inside the Fairmont 10-yard line.

But, both times, Worthington was stopped short of the goal line and —despite the Trojans’ stellar defensive efforts —the Cardinals took a 6-0 lead into intermission.

“We had a lot of guys flying to the ball,” declared WHS head coach Brad Grimmius. “It wasn’t just one or two guys, it was everybody. We really had a solid team defensive performance in the first half —other than the long touchdown pass on Fairmont’s third play.”

Worthington covered the opening kickoff well and then stuffed the Cardinals for negative yards on Fairmont’s first two running plays.

Facing a third down and 13 yards to go from its own 16-yard line, Fairmont scored the game’s first touchdown when senior wide receiver Josh Eversma broke loose on a slant route, getting open behind Worthington’s defense.

Cardinal junior quarterback Spencer Chirpich fired a perfect pass to Eversma, who raced untouched 84 yards to the end zone, giving FHS a 6-0 lead with 10 minutes and 20 seconds showing on the first-quarter clock.

On Worthington’s opening offensive series, Fairmont tackled the Trojans for three straight losses, moving the visitors 14 yards backwards, resulting in a fourth-and-24 situation from the WHS 19-yard line.

It looked like the Cardinals were going to dominate the game the same way they did at Worthington three years ago in Grimmius’s first game as the Trojans’ head coach.

But, starting with one of many fine punts by junior Will Mulder, Worthington began to change the flow of the contest.

A crisp tackle by senior linebacker Will Dudley created a third-and-eight for the Cardinals and after a rare incomplete pass by Chirpich (17-of-23, 248 yards, four touchdowns), Fairmont was forced to punt for the first of three times in the first half.

A high snap resulted in the Trojans’ taking possession at the Fairmont 35-yard line.

Following an incomplete pass, Worthington sophomore Robert Lovan snapped off a 17-yard run on a sweep to the left, finding a crease behind a pair of good blocks by the Trojans.

Worthington picked up another first down on the strength of a pair of runs up the middle by junior Troy Eknitphong and a quarterback sneak by senior Blake Schroeder, putting the ball on Fairmont’s six-yard line.

But, the Cardinals held the Trojans to no gain on their next two rushes and then Fairmont’s Cole Emler intercepted a tipped Schroeder pass in the end zone, ending Worthington’s eight-play, 29-yard drive.

“We have to finish drives,” summed up Grimmius. “When we move the ball that well to get that close, we’ve got to be able to score.”

Both teams exchanged punts a couple of times in the second quarter, with Fairmont starting its fourth drive of the game at its own 20-yard line with 8:02 remaining in the first half.

On the Cardinals’ second play, Worthington’s Carson Hagen —who had an outstanding night on defense —sacked Chirpich, forcing a fumble.

Peter Abraham recovered the ball for the Trojans at the FHS 11-yard line and things were again looking good for Worthington.

But, after a three-yard run Ektnitphong gave WHS a second-and-seven at the eight, a penalty on the Trojans moved the ball back to the 13.

Fairmont forced a fumble on the next play and —again —the Trojans were unable to capitalize on superior field position.

“We were our own drive busters on that one,” Grimmius said. “We get the ball inside their 10-yard line and then have a penalty and a fumble. We can’t kill on own drives like that.”

Worthington’s defense, however, continued to play well the rest of the half and neither team mounted a serious threat before the break.

The Trojans came the closest when a well-executed halfback pass from Dudley to Mulder was broken up Eversma at the FHS 20-yard line in the closing seconds of the second quarter.

Chirpich throws three second-half TD passes

Worthington, which had rushed for 77 yards in the first half and held the Cardinals to a negative nine yards on the ground, wasn’t able to contain Fairmont’s aerial assault in the third and fourth quarters.

Chirpich had completed six passes for 95 yards in the first half, but he had his share of hurried passes and missed the mark several times.

In the second half, he was able to roll out more effectively and mixed up to his throws to a trio of receivers —Eversma, Luke Becker and Jay Ruen, each of whom caught a touchdown pass.

The Cardinals also gained some yards on the ground as both Derek Edman and Ben Abel pounded for yards.

Fairmont took a 12-0 lead midway through the third quarter when Chirpich connected with Becker on an eight-yard scoring play which capped a 10-play, 56-yard drive.

An 18-yard pass play to Becker on the second play of the drive was followed by an 11-yard pass to Joe Weber and a seven-yard burst by Becker.

The Trojans countered with a 13-yard run by Lovan, aided by a great block by Hagen, followed by a strong run by Dudley.

But, Worthington was unable to sustain the drive and the Cardinals marched down the field again, scoring their third TD of the nigh with just four seconds remaining in the third quarter.

Eversma made a leaping catch in the end zone to cap a seven-play, 48-yard Fairmont drive with a 20-yard touchdown reception from Chirpich.

Kolin Kelly’s PAT kick made the score 19-0.

Fairmont’s defense stopped the Trojans again and the Cardinals clinched the verdict with one more touchdown drive, capped by a six-yard TD pass from Chirpich to Ruen with 7:16 to play in the fourth quarter.

A 23-yard completion from Chirpich to Becker and a 14-yard pass play to Abel were the two big gainers for the Cardinals on that drive.

Worthington sophomore Zach Bruns had a 14-yard in the game’s closing minutes, as the Trojans finished with 80 net yards rushing, but did not complete a pass in 10 throws.

“We had a lot of positive things happen in this game,” concluded Grimmius, who pointed out Muller’s outstanding job of directional punting (away from Becker) as one example.

“We were aggressive and did some good things on both offense and defense. We are taking strides in the right direction and look forward to playing Luverne next week.”

The Trojans (0-1) will open their Southwest Conference schedule by playing the Cardinals (1-0) at Luverne Friday.

Worthington 0 0 0 0 — 0

Fairmont 6 0 13 7 — 26