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Fairmont avoids miscues in 35-19 victory over Worthington

WORTHINGTON -- By the time Kyle Vaske and Worthington's football team settled down and found a rhythm Friday night, it was too late.

The Trojans were unable to overcome a sluggish start, which featured blown coverages, missed tackles, and an offensive attack that produced just one first down in the first five possessions, en route to a season-opening 35-19 loss to Fairmont.

"At the beginning of the game, we kind of had the first-game jitters," Vaske said. "Everyone was nervous, and I just couldn't throw the ball; it kept slipping out of my fingers."

Vaske, a senior quarterback, completed his first attempt of the game -- a 9-yard screen pass to receiver Aduo Omot on Worthington's first play from scrimmage -- but was sacked on second down. His third-down pass missed his intended target, senior wide receiver Derek Busswitz. The punting unit came onto the field, and things got much worse.

Cody Melendrez's snap sailed over the head of Worthington punter Matt King, who raced toward his own goal line after the ball. He picked it up and was tackled at the Worthington 13-yard line.

The play sucked the energy out of Worthington's team and crowd, shifting all of the momentum in favor of Fairmont, which went three-and-out in its first offensive series but suddenly found itself on the opponent's 13-yard line.

Two plays later, Fairmont's Taylor Kotewa dived into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown run.

On the second play of Worthington's ensuing drive, Omot took a reverse hand-off and turned what appeared to be nothing into something. The senior receiver cut inside, broke a tackle and exploded into the secondary for an 18-yard gain. But Vaske was sacked on the next play, and, after being flushed from the pocket and tackled for a 4-yard gain on second-and-20, he fired another incomplete pass.

After the Trojans punted, the Cardinals put together a nearly flawless drive and were on the verge of scoring when Melendrez gained a bit of redemption.

Running at will on Worthington's defense, Fairmont drove 43 yards to the Trojans' 17-yard line. But Melendrez delivered a huge hit on Kotewa, who fumbled the ball as he flipped over the back of Melendrez. Worthington recovered.

"That was a big play for us," Worthington coach Dennis Hale said. "Cody had been hanging his head from the bad snap, and it was good to seem him bounce back and make a play."

Just as quickly, however, Worthington gave the ball back.

Sophomore Tyler Stugelmeyer entered at quarterback and threw three consecutive incomplete passes.

Fairmont went three-and-out and punted, giving Worthington the ball at its own 5-yard line.

After another possession without a first down, the Trojans punted. Fairmont took over at Worthington's 46 and again drove the ball into the red zone.

On second down, from the Worthington 17, Fairmont junior quarterback Justin Heinrich threw a fade pass into the end zone. But, despite a bulky cast protecting a broken right hand, Worthington senior Mike Vorwald turned, leaped and wrestled the ball from the receiver for an interception.

Worthington's offense again was forced off the field after just three plays, but, after catching a break on a Fairmont fake-punt attempt -- which looked like it would have produced a first-down had the receiver not fumbled -- the Trojans finally put a successful drive together.

Two Fairmont penalties, along with three Vorwald receptions totaling 38 yards, helped Worthington record three first-downs and reach the Cardinals' 5-yard line.

On third down, Vaske faked a hand-off, then a reverse, rolled to his right and found a wide-open Justin Larson in the back of the end zone to tie the score at 7-all.

The game went into halftime tied at 7-7, and, after a three-and-out by Worthington to open the second half, Fairmont struck on a 13-yard touchdown pass from Heinrich to Brennan Holm.

"I was very disappointed the way we came out in the second half," Hale said. "We had a tie game, and we had possession of the ball, but we did nothing the first three plays. That was huge for them, and it was kind of a deflator for us."

Still, Worthington responded with a 14-play, 63-yard drive, capped by a 9-yard touchdown pass from Vaske to Omot.

The extra-point attempt was blocked.

"That was terrible," Hale said.

Fairmont regained any momentum on its ensuing possession. A blown assignment in Worthington's secondary led to a 40-yard pass play on third-and-3. Three plays later, the Cardinals capped a 68-yard scoring drive on a touchdown pass from Heinrich to Holm.

After Worthington went three-and-out, Fairmont appeared to stick the dagger. Heinrich connected with Will Hawkins for a 17-yard passing play on third-and-9 to keep alive a drive that ended on a 1-yard touchdown run by Heinrich.

Worthington, however, still had a pulse.

Settled down and in a rhythm, Vaske went 3-for-3 passing for 19 yards on the next drive, and Mitchell Jenson followed an 18-yard run with a 1-yard touchdown dive.

Needing the two-point conversion to make it a one-score game, Jensen was stuffed at the goal line.

Heinrich later connected with Martin Tow on a 43-yard touchdown pass on fourth down as the clock was winding down.

"If we would have started moving the ball right away like we did in the second half, this game would have been ours," Vorwald said. "We were better than them."

Vorwald had seven receptions for 76 yards, and Jensen added 15 carries for 49 yards and a score.

Vaske went 16-for-27 passing for 170 yards and two touchdowns, including a 10-for-15 mark for 117 yards in the second half, to lead Worthington (0-1), which will host Pipestone Area on Friday.

"Hopefully we can keep rolling like we did in the second half," Vaske said. "It actually was a better game than it looked. They didn't destroy us; they just had a couple of big plays that killed us.

"If we play them down the road, it should be a lot closer."

Fairmont 7 0 14 14 -- 35

Worthington 0 7 6 6 -- 19