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Section 3AAA football finals: JCC powers past Fairmont

NEW ULM -- In a battle between spread option and power football, power prevailed, as Jackson County Central's physical running attack and sound tackling won out over Fairmont's speed and deception. The Huskies defeated the Cardinals 21-14 in an e...

NEW ULM -- In a battle between spread option and power football, power prevailed, as Jackson County Central’s physical running attack and sound tackling won out over Fairmont’s speed and deception. The Huskies defeated the Cardinals 21-14 in an exciting Minnesota Section 3AAA football final in New Ulm on Friday to qualify them for the state tournament.

“It’s a special feeling to be able to go to state two years in a row,” JCC running back and linebacker Jacob Tvinnereim said. “Last year I didn’t contribute much, I was just on special teams. This year I have the chance to go out there on every play and do the best that I can.”

In the first round of the tournament, JCC will face the winner of today’s Section 1AAA final between Cannon Falls and Rochester Lourdes at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter on Saturday, Sept. 12.

The Huskies defense had its hands full with Fairmont’s spread attack. Cardinals quarterback Nathan Kallenbach led a speedy offense that opened the game at a blistering pace. FHS put up two scores on its first two drives and looked near unstoppable. The quarterback threw a touchdown to running back Thomas Willett on a screen pass and caught a touchdown from Willett on a halfback pass.

“It was an interesting matchup,” Jackson County Central head coach Tom Schuller said. “We’ve got some really skilled players in the secondary and they’ve got some really skilled athletes at wide receiver. It’s fun to watch when you get those athletes on this artificial surface. It was probably a little more fun to watch (in the stands) than on the field, because it gets a little stressful.”

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But JCC adjusted, put more pressure on the quarterback and the Cardinals didn’t score another point. After Fairmont’s second touchdown, the read option didn’t work, jet sweeps were contained, and screen passes were stopped losses. The Huskies sacked the quarterback three times, with linebacker Ethan Lindley getting home twice, and defensive end Austin Haken once. The tremendous defensive effort in the final three quarters was capped by a game-winning interception by Tvinnereim.

With JCC ahead 21-14 and Fairmont driving with about a minute to go, Kallenbach dropped back and threw a ball to the left sideline intended for receiver Sam Schwieger. The linebacker jumped the route and dove in front of the receiver to intercept the pass and seal the game. Two runs and two kneels later, the Huskies were celebrating a section championship.

“I just dropped back and saw the ball and jumped it,” Tvinnereim said. “I came out with it and it was a great feeling to win us the game and take us to state.”

Tvinnereim was also crucial to JCC’s power running attack, along with fellow running back Nico Feroni.

“We like to come out and be a power running team,” Schuller said. “We’re not quite as much of a power running team as we were last year. We’re down to our third-string halfback and Nico Feroni has done a great job for us. He hadn’t played running back since the ninth grade -- this is his third game and he is doing a tremendous job for us.”

The Huskies came out of the gates committed to pounding the rock and didn’t quit for 48 minutes. On the game’s opening drive, they ran the ball on 10 consecutive plays, gaining 75 yards. Feroni capped the drive with a 30-yard touchdown run to give JCC an early 7-0 lead.

Quarterback Easton Bahr faked a handoff to a receiver in motion, and instead handed off to the tailback up the middle, between guard and tackle. The offensive line opened a gaping hole and Feroni burst through untouched for the score.

Both Feroni and Tvinnereim went over 100 yards in the game, with Feroni gaining 103 on 19 carries and Tvinnereim gaining 101 on 16. Bahr added 61 yards on the ground, including a go-ahead 18-yard touchdown on a bootleg left in the third quarter to put JCC ahead 21-14.

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With the running game cooking, Bahr and the receivers had opportunities over the top. On JCC’s second drive of the game, the quarterback had tight end Chris Gumto wide open beyond the secondary for what could have been an easy score. But he overthrew him.

On his next opportunity, he didn’t miss. Backed up on his own 5-yard line, Bahr dropped back and lobbed the ball up to Gumto running a go-route. The tight end leapt up, plucked the ball out of the air with a defender draped all over him, stiff-armed the defender to the ground and was off to the races for a 95-yard score down the right sideline. After a missed extra point, JCC trailed 14-13.

Bahr finished the night 6-for-12 passing with 125 yards, a touchdown and an interception, with Gumto accounting for 102 of his yards on two receptions.

Despite the Cardinals’ fast start, the Huskies’ defense contained Kallenbach to 143 yards, one touchdown, and one interception passing, and 24 yards on 11 carries rushing. Schwieger had six catches for 61 yards, while Willett led the rushing attack with 93 yards.

Fairmont 14 0 0 0 -- 14JCC 7 6 8 0 -- 21

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