Prep football: Cards fall to Rocori in final seconds
COLD SPRING -- Willmar came within four seconds of ending Rocori's 16-game winning streak on a damp, windy night on the Spartans' home turf.
But Mac Mueller, the Spartans' talented dual-threat quarterback, found Nick Thorpe clear in the back of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown for dramatic 22-21 Central Lakes Conference victory Friday.
It was a heartbreaker for the Cardinals and their chilled fans. Willmar had trailed 16-14 at halftime but held the defending Class 4A state champions to 61 yards the second half.
Other than the do-or-die clutch plays by Mueller and teammates in the final 40 seconds, Willmar's defense was outstanding the second half. With a cold north wind at their back, Rocori kept the ball pinned inside the Willmar 40 the entire final quarter.
Rocori, ranked No. 2, started at its own 35 with 2:47 left. Willmar's defense pinned Mueller deep in his own backfield and the Spartans faced 3rd and 19 with 43 seconds left.
The 6-foot, 175-pound senior hooked up with wide out Connor Nelson for 17 yards to the Willmar 7. On fourth and two, Mueller rammed for the first down at the four.
Zech Streed, Cole Hagen and Joey Lee tackled Mueller for an 8-yard loss. After an incompletion, it was third and goal from the 13 with under 10 second left. Mueller pulled it out finding Thorpe alone in the back of the end zone with 4 second left.
It was Willmar's second one-point loss of the season. The Cards lost 21-20 at Fergus Falls.
The Cardinals were much better prepared to play this week than a week ago when they trailed Brainerd 21-0 at half. Those same Warriors had trailed Rocori 30-0 and would lose to the Spartans by three scores.
Willmar marched 65 yards in 11 plays to open the scoring on a 24 yard pass from quarterback Alex Grove to slotback Chris Cunningham.
Rocori got the next two scores. Mueller broke away for 75 yards to set up the second and after his second.
Leading 16-7 late in the second quarter, the Spartans displayed a little too much aggressiveness (or arrogance) and passed incomplete out of punt formation from their own 46 on fourth down..
Willmar accepted the gift card and cashed it in with no time left on the first-half clock. A 21-yard screen to Heitzman got it to the 3, Grove circled to the one and Coach Jon Konold got a time out with 3 seconds left. After each coach took a time out, Grove plunged through the middle from the spread formation after setting up with double tight ends before the Spartans' time out.
In the third quarter, a 33-yard screen pass to Streed put the Cardinals back in front 21-16 with Patrick Courtney's third conversion boot.
The third quarter ended that way as the weather turned nasty with rain and wind blanketing the field.
Neither team could move the ball, until Rocori found a spark in the final minute.
Willmar's homecoming on Friday brings in Alexandria.
Rocori 22, Willmar 21
Willmar (0-3, 1-3) 7 7 7 0-- 21
Rocori (4-0, 4-0) 8 8 0 6 -- 22
Wil - Chris Cunningham 24 pass from Grove (Patrick Courtney kick)
Roc - Connor Nelson 2 pass from Mueller (Mueller run)
Roc - Adam Dingmann 3 run (run good)
Wil - Alex Grove 1 run (Courtney kick)
Wil - Zech Streed 33 pass from Grove (Courtney kick)
Roc - Nick Thorpe 13 pass from Mueller (run fail)
First downs: 11 ... Rushing: 38-117 ... Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 11-20-128-1 ... Fumbles lost: 2 ... Penalties: 5-30
Rushing: Michael Heitzman 17-43, Alex Grove 15-57, Zech Streed 6-17 ... Passing: Grove 11-20-128-1 ... Receiving: Heitzman 3-33, Austin Grove 2-6, Austin Rambow 1-9, Zach Cunningham 3-39, Zech Streed 2-41 ... Punting: Streed 6-35,5... Interceptions: Courtney ... Fumble recoveries: none ... Tackles (solo-assist): Hunter Mottinger 2-0, Zech Streed 3-5, Courtney 2-0, Grove 1-1, Tyler Stegeman 4-1, Jordan Geurtz 3-2, Cole Hagen 1-1, Josh Kelly 4-2, Joey Lee 3-1, Buzzy Tollefson 2-1, Cass Herzog 1-1 ... QB sacks: Herzog 1.5, Hagen 1.5 ... Tackles for loss: Stree 1, Geurtz 2, Kelly 2, Lee 2, Herzog 1
First downs: 9 ... Rushing: 33-95 ... Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 8-21-119-1 ... Fumbles lost: 0 ... Penalties: 3-20
Rushing: Mac Mueller 25-86, Ryan Tong 6-6, Adam Dingmann 2-3 ... Passing: Mueller 8-21-119-1 ... Receiving: Derek Kuechle 1-21, Terres 1-0, Connor Nelson 3-27, Jake Huber 1-20, Thorpe 2-24, Eric Zimmer 1-25 ... Punting: Mueller 5-25.0, Alex Austad 40.1