An Opening Day three-and-out
If head coach Randy Kuechenmeister’s preseason expectations were any indication, the Blue Earth Area Buccaneers were due for some growing pains on the gridiron in 2016, especially with seven first-string departures from both sides of last year’s section-winning roster.
With one game under their belt, the Bucs now know that is the truth, having dropped their home opener, a Sept. 1 clash with the rival Fairmont Cardinals, 35-0.
In the first quarter alone, BEA forced a pair of Cardinals turnovers, recovering a fumble near the red zone and stuffing Fairmont on a fourth-down play in the Bucs’ own territory. But the early defensive stands were no match for the stamina of Fairmont’s offensive attack, which churned out 397 total yards in contrast to BEA’s 89 yards on the evening.
“I thought we hung in there for most of the first half,” Kuechenmeister said. “But them scoring right before the half was a big turning point.”
The Buccaneers, who also suffered a shutout loss to the Cardinals in the 2015 opener, responded to Fairmont’s first score, driving into opposing territory following a five-yard rushing touchdown by the Cards’ Chris Fausch.
In a picture of the night to come, however, the Bucs stumbled over their own feet, losing possession of the ball on a low snap. The costly fumble erased an otherwise sharp series from new starting quarterback Logan Jahnke, whose debut statistics (10-20, 52 yards) both understated the tightness of his spirals and exemplified BEA’s opening-day offensive hiccups.
Before exiting in the fourth quarter with an injury, Jahnke directed an efficient short-yardage unit one that boasted a time of possession of 26:56 compared to Fairmont’s 17:04. But the offense also had trouble finding separation as Thursday’s game wore on, logging just seven first downs by the end of the contest.
After a BEA drive to start the second half resulted in no points, the Cardinals began to widen their gap on the scoreboard, going for six on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Nathan Kallenbach, then boosting their lead to 22-0 when a failed extra-point attempt became a converted two-point throw.
Defensive stands were not necessarily hard to come by for the Buccaneers, who claimed three road victories to earn a state tournament bid at the close of their 2015 campaign, but the “D” was also unable to shoulder the load for the entirety of Thursday’s bout for the honorary Little Brown Jug.
“They controlled the line of scrimmage,” Kuechenmeister said of Fairmont. “They kind of just wore us down.”
By the fourth quarter, the Cardinals had extended their lead to 29-0, and a 16-yard TD run by Fairmont’s Mario Moldonado sealed the Bucs’ fate.
Zach Buseman, whose 10 tackles headlined the Bucs defense and fumble recovery sparked early-game hope for the home crowd, also led his team on the ground with two carries for 22 yards. Blake Barnett, Chris Sanders and Jonah Legred led the pass catchers with a combined six receptions for 40 yards.
Looking to rebound in week two, the Buccaneers were next scheduled to travel to St. James High School for a matchup with the Saints, who dropped their own opener, 46-10, to Waterville-Elysian-Morristown.
“We need to improve our techniques and put ourselves in a better position to make plays,” Kuechenmeister said, looking forward. “We want to be more consistent vs. St. James and limit our mistakes.”
Updates on BEA’s second game of the 2016 season will be published live on Twitter @FCRegister and covered in the next edition of the Faribault County Register.