MONTGOMERY — Fairmont junior running back Elijah Johnson worked diligently during the offseason to resculpt his powerful 5-foot-9 frame to a leaner 190 pounds.
Johnson chiseled out a game-best and career-high 152 yards and three touchdowns on only nine carries to help engineer the Cardinals’ season-opening 48-0 prep football triumph over the Tri-City United Titans on a rare Thursday night in Montgomery.
“EJ is our cowbell out of the backfield and he lived up to that old durable football term tonight,” said Fairmont head coach Mat Mahoney. “But he wasn’t alone as a lot of guys elevated their overall games and contributed to the winning performance.”
Johnson, however, did deliver Fairmont’s initial ‘big’ play of the season. After defensive linemen Tyson Thate and Gage Borntrager combined to halt TCU’s fourth-and-9 fourth-down run at the Cardinals’ 41, senior quarterback Blaze Geiger went to work.
Geiger, who completed an incredible 11 of 15 passes for 258 yards and two TDs, tossed a 14-yarder to Jace Teveldal to reach the Titans’ 45.
Johnson hammered through trench traffic, cut upfield, busted a tackle and sprinted down the sideline to paydirt and Fairmont’s first six points. Kellen Stenzel made his kicking debut by nailing the first of his six extra points on the night to stake the Cardinals to a 7-0 lead with 5:55 left in the first quarter.
“We came out a little flat and surprisingly, looked a bit nervous, but once we settled down, we rolled,” said Mahoney.
After the three combined scoreless possessions, Geiger displayed his strong arm by hitting Levi Pooley with an 8-yarder before Johnson pounded out 18 more yards on the ground.
Geiger utilized good touch on a 13-yard screen to Pooley before Johnson churned out 10 yards, but lost the handle on the ball. Nolan Schultze recovered at the 13-yard and would be the beneficiary of his own alert play two snaps later.
After a loss of 2 yards, Geiger rolled out and threaded a 15-yard TD to Schultze in the corner of the end zone. Stenzel’s PAT kick doubled the gap at the 7:28 juncture of the second.
“We really stepped up with a couple of ‘big’ plays when we needed a little extra adrenaline,” said Mahoney. “Connor Gronewald did a nice job of jumping TCU’s route on a fake punt turned pass.”
Gronewald intercepted the throw and sped 35 yards to the house for what has become the Cardinal defense’s forte — a pick-6. Stenzel kicked the PAT for a 21-point lead with 4:53 left in the opening half.
After Fairmont’s stifling defense — which held TCU to 139 total yards — forced another three-and-out series, Geiger zipped consecutive passes to Pooley for 6, 21 and 18 yards, respectively, to set up Johnson’s 9-yard TD run and a 27-0 halftime lead.
Johnson needed only one touch of the football in the third quarter to produce his third score of the game. Johnson picked up a block, cut, slashed and motored by the Titans’ secondary for a 55-yard TD. Stenzel’s kick extended the Cardinals’ lead to 34-0 and ended Johnson’s night.
Geiger later fired a screen to Hank Artz and the 6-2, 240-pound junior fullback rumbled and stampeded his way 62 yards to the TCU 9 during the third quarter’s second possession. After a rare three incompletions, Geiger sidearmed a scoring screen to tight end Ethan Geerdes at the pylon to convert on fourth down. Stenzel added the PAT with 7:44 left in the third.
Dakota Madias’ pivotal fumble recovery at Fairmont’s 12 as the third quarter came to a close thwarted TCU’s late threat to spoil the shutout.
Sophomore quarterback Joe Long then etched his name into the Cardinals’ record books by completing his first varsity pass for an 88-yard TD to Tavian Harvey at the 10:08 juncture of the fourth frame.
Pooley made a game-best five catches for 66 yards for the Cardinals.
“We’ll take the win, but we still have some areas to work on before next Friday night,” said Mahoney.
Fairmont (1-0) plays host to Belle Plaine at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 8, at Mahoney Field.
Tri-City United (0-1) hits the road to Arlington to square off against Sibley East on Friday, Sept. 8.
Fairmont 7 20 14 7 — 48
TCU 0 0 0 0 — 0
FMT–Elijah Johnson 45 run (Kellen Stenzel kick), 5:55.
FMT–Nolan Schultze 15 pass from Blaze Geiger (Stenzel kick), 7:28.
FMT–Connor Gronewald 35 interception return (Stenzel kick), 4:53.
FMT–E. Johnson 9 run (kick failed), 1:17.
FMT–E. Johnson 44 run (Stenzel kick), 11:47.
FMT–Ethan Geerdes 9 pass from Geiger (Stenzel kick), 7:44.
FMT–Tavian Harvey 88 pass from Joe Long (Stenzel kick), 10:08.