Mac Mueller pulled the rabbit out of the hat just in time Friday night.
The Rocori senior quarterback found senior tight end Nick Thorpe from 12 yards out for the game-winning touchdown with four seconds on the clock to give the Spartans a come-from-behind 22-21 Central Lakes Conference win over Willmar.
“I saw Nick in the corner and I just found a gap. It was crazy. I can’t believe he caught it,” Mueller said. “That’s the first time I’ve been in a game like this. There are four quarters of football. We had to battle to the end.
“We got the one big play we needed. It’s a great feeling.”
The Class 4A No. 2-ranked Spartans (4-0 CLC, 4-0 overall) trailed 21-16 with under a minute to go and had plenty of chances to take the lead from the stingy Cardinals (1-2 CLC, 1-3 overall), who have lost three games by a combined nine points this season.
But Willmar stopped the Spartans on every drive in the second half until the final one. Mueller rolled to his right and found hit Thorpe in the middle of the end zone for the go-ahead score.
“I just hoped I didn’t drop the ball,” said Thorpe, who finished with two catches for 24 yards. “We never put our heads down. We knew we could still come back. We all banded together and scored that last one.”
Rocori head coach Mike Rowe said he knew Willmar was going to play man-to-man coverage on the final drive.
“We tried to get someone open in a little bit of space,” Rowe said. “The original read wasn’t there and Mac extended the play. Thorpe’s a big target at 6-foot-4. He found him at the right time.”
The Cardinals, who trailed 16-14 at the half, went up 21-16 on a 33-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Alex Grove to Zech Streed with 9:11 left in the third quarter.
Rocori, the defending Class 4A champion, was able to move the ball behind Mueller, who rushed 25 times for 102 yards and was 9 of 22 passing for 114 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
“They switched from a 3-4 front to a 4-3. It was tough for our offensive line to make reads on running plays,” Mueller said. “Their linebacking corps was the best we’ve seen by far. They played a hard press against us.”
A change in the weather at the beginning of the second half proved difficult for both teams. High winds and rain began to howl from the north.
The Spartans luckily had the ball with the wind at their backs in the fourth quarter. Otherwise, throwing into the wind proved near impossible.
W — Christopher Cunningham 24 pass from Alex Grove (Patrick Courtney kick)
R — Jeron Terres 2 pass from Mac Mueller (Mueller run)
R — Adam Dingmann 3 run (Jake Herges run)
W — Grove 1 run (Courtney kick)
W — Zech Streed 33 pass from Grove (Courtney kick)
R — Nick Thorpe 12 pass from Mueller (run failed)
Rushing: W — Streed 5-17, Grove 14-61, Michael Heitzman 20-43; R — Mueller 25-102, Ryan Tong 6-6, Dingmann 2-6, Connor Nelson 1-2, Alex Austad 2(-2).
Passing: W — Grove 11-20-1-130; R — Mueller 9-22-1-114.
Receiving: W — Heitzman 3-31, Cunningham 3-44, Austin Grove 1-5, Streed 1-33, Austin Rambow 2-17, Jordan Geurtz 1-0; R — Nelson 2-25, Jake Huber 1-20, Terres 2-0, Thorpe 2-24, Derek Kuechle 1-20, Derek Schlangen 1-25.