(Editor’s note: A previous version incorrectly listed the time and day of Rocori’s next game.)
The Rocori football team lost a lot on graduation day 2012, and the thought of the Rocori offense dominating without quarterback Nate Meyer may have been hard for some to grasp.
Meyer passed for 1,896 yards and 19 touchdowns during Rocori’s 2012 state title run as a senior, and four out of his five top five receivers graduated, but the Spartans offense hasn’t skipped a beat.
Mac Mueller is probably most responsible for that.
Through four games, Mueller has 612 yards passing and is the Spartans’ leader on the ground with 593 yards.
Rocori has scored 26 touchdowns. Mueller has thrown for eight and rushed in nine TDs.
“Meyer was definitely the better passer than me,” Mueller said. “He liked to throw the ball deep and I like to scramble and extend the plays longer.”
Rocori won its first games by an average of 26.7 points. But Friday night against Willmar, Mueller — the dual-threat QB — had to be the hero.
Mueller broke Willmar’s contain, rolled out to his right and found tight end Nick Thorpe in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown pass with four seconds left.
“(Mueller) is very patient and he doesn’t get rattled,” Rocori coach Mike Rowe said. “He broke contain when he needed to and he did a good job keeping calm at the end of that game.”
The Spartans, ranked No. 2 in Class 4A, won 22-21 and look to stay undefeated against winless Sauk Rapids at 1 p.m. Saturday in Cold Spring.
Mueller threw for 198 yards in the opener against Brainerd, 196 against Alexandria and 100 at St. Cloud Apollo.
Rocori beat Apollo 35-18, but that game was the only one in which Mueller didn’t throw a touchdown. Instead, he ran in all five TDs against the Eagles, finishing the game with 256 rushing yards on 30 carries.
“I’m grateful we don’t have to design a defense to have to stop him,” Rowe said.
Mueller’s athleticism allowed Rowe to use Mueller in multiple ways as a junior, mostly as a rusher (60 carries, 316 yards) and receiver (14 catches, 211 yards).
He played limited time at quarterback behind Meyer, completing 13 passes on 22 attempts for 158 yards. Still, the snaps were useful to Mueller.
“I played a couple series (at quarterback) each game early in the season just to get a taste of it,” Mueller said. “Then I ran the scout offense and that helped, going against a state-title caliber defense in practice. And playing in the backfield last year, I got to watch Nate make his reads.”
While Meyer was a stand-up pocket passer with a strong arm that landed him a spot on Division I South Dakota State’s roster, Mueller excels by making plays with his feet.
“The spread offense is designed for an athletic kid that can move and Mac does a good job of that,” Rowe said. “What impresses me the most is the way he can decipher defenses in the pass game and punish teams for blitzing.”
Four of Rocori’s top five receivers from last season graduated and Mueller was No. 4 on that list, hauling in 14 passes for 211 yards.
That meant a new crop of receivers needed to step up. Jake Huber was the sixth-leading receiver with 122 yards last season and he’s the Spartans’ top receiver this year with 214 yards on 14 catches.
“It seemed like with Nate, when you ran your route the ball was always right there,” Huber said. “With Mac, you have to be alert and extend your route as he’s extending the play, too.”
After Huber, Mueller has six targets receiving between 43 and 86 yards. That includes seniors Connor Nelson and Blake Holbrook.
“Mueller is such a shifty guy and he finds a way to get you the ball,” Nelson said. “He’s not afraid to throw to anyone and everyone.”
Added Holbrook: “You definitely have to be in shape to be a receiver for Mac. You can run your route and be wide open but you have to be able to stay open until he finds you.”
Mueller and nine of the 10 receivers who’ve caught passes for Rocori this season are graduating in the spring, but the biggest point this season has proved is that the Spartans have no problem filling in the blanks.