WILLMAR -- A mild fall night filled with promise had a dismal ending for the Willmar Cardinals on Senior Night at Hodapp Field Friday.
Willmar led the Central Lakes conflict until the final two minutes. That's when Rocori's Chris Lardy ran around right end on third down to score from four yards out and put Rocori ahead 19-17.
With 1:53 left, Willmar still had a chance. Quarterback Alec Saunders moved his team down field with an 18-yard sideline pass to Adam Fagerstrom and a 21-yard throw to Jordan Smith over the middle to reach the Rocori 22 -- within Smith's field goal range.
But on third-and-15, Saunders' pass was deflected into the arms of linebacker Aaron Schneider to end any comeback hope and secure the win, ending Rocori's four-game losing streak.
It was Willmar's second straight loss on its home field after a stirring road win at Sartell three weeks ago. The loss likely shoots down any chance for a home playoff game.
"It's tough," said cornerback Nathan Boie, one of 27 seniors introduced on parents' night before the game. "I thought we had it at halftime, but we kept saying 'it's zero-zero'. They just played harder than us in the second half."
Willmar played a strong first half, mounting two 65-yard touchdown drives and another mid-range drive that ended with Smith booting a 28-yard field goal to lead at break 17-7.
But the Cardinals (2-4, 2-5) didn't score post intermission.
Saunder's 16-yard keeper and Smith kick put Willmar up 7-0. In the second period, Smith made a spectacular end-zone catch while blanketed by two defenders on a looping 24-yard pass from Saunders.
Spartans quarterback Adam Backes directed the second-half comeback. It was done without senior fullback Nick Schneider (averaging 101 yards per game), who sat out the second half with a thigh bruise after gaining 84 yards.
With the offense stalled, the Willmar defense almost pulled it out. Instead, on fourth-and-19 at the Willmar 34 with 4:45 left in the fourth quarter, Backes scrambled until he found Dusty Schlangen in the middle for a 20 yard gain to the Willmar 15. Six plays later, Lardy scored the go-ahead touchdown.
Rocori 19, Willmar 17
Rocori 0 7 6 6 -- 19
Willmar 7 10 0 0 -- 17
Wil - Alec Saunders 16 run (Jordan Smith kick)
Wil - Smith 24 pass from Saunders (Smith kick)
Roc - Chris Lardy 9 run (Reggie Fraley kick)
Wil - Smith 28 field goal
Roc - Cole Schmitz 1 run (kick blocked)
Roc - Lardy 4 run (pass fail)
First downs: 14 ... Rushing: 36-219 ... Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 8-19-111-0 ... Fumbles lost: 1 ... Penalties: 3-17
Rushing: Adam Backes 6-43, Spencer Schulte 5-11, Chris Lardy 14-71, Nick Schn eider 6-84, Cole Schmitz 4-5, Mike Toren 1-5 Passing: Backes 8-19-111-0 ... Receiving: Dusty Schlangen 4-93, Mitch Bork 2-5, Ben Rausch 1-9, Lardy 1-4 ... Punting: Brett Eisenschenk 2-26.5 ... Interceptions: Aaron Schneider ... Fumble recoveries: none
First downs: 18 ... Rushing: 38-145 ... Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 14-22-157-1 ... Fumbles lost: 0 ... Penalties: 5-30
Rushing: Isaiah Streed 6-11, Alec Saunders 25-90, Stevin Carlson 5-12, Nathanial Swoyer 2-32 ... Passing: Saunders 14-20-157-1 ... Receiving: Jordan Smith 9-94, Taylor Filipek 4-45, Adam Fagerstrom 18 ... Punting: Smith 2-34.5 ... Interceptions: none ... Fumble recoveries: Elijah Nash ... Tackles (solo-assist): Smith 1-2, Tim Chermak 3-2, Colin Erickson 2-0, Justin Hamman 3-1, Nate Swoyer 1-4, Alec Saunders 3-3, Cody Stegeman 2-2, Logan Birkland 5-3, Chris Duscher 0-1, Joe Wetterling 0-5, Nash 3-4, Nathan Boie 1-0, Fagerstrom 0-1, Ben Barnes 1-2, Ryan Filipek 0-4 ... QB sacks: none