by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The twenty-four seniors who played their final game for Rogers on Thursday night had a big role in elevating their school to football prominence.
But their long list of achievements won’t include a return trip to the Dome.
The Rocori Spartans and their wily, slippery quarterback Nate Meyer ended the Royals season with a 17-6 conquest in the Class 4A semifinals at St. Cloud State.
With just four starters back from last year’s state runner-up season, the Royals regrouped, reloaded and captured their third straight conference and section championships, but they ran into a better team and finished 9-2.
“You have to give Rocori credit, because we came out and played a good, hard, physical game and they beat us,” said Rogers coach Marc Franz. “I will cheer for them from here on out, and I think they have a shot to win it all.”
Meyer passed for 150 yards and one touchdown, and ran for 101 of his team’s 106 net yards and another score, and the Spartan defense did the rest, including Meyer, who notched one of their three takeaways, an interception.
Smaller but faster than the Royals, the Spartans harassed quarterback Matt Weber and ran down the Royal ballcarriers near the line of scrimmage most of the time. Rogers was limited to 247 net yards — 138 rushing, 109 passing — and got a big chunk of that on two trick pass plays as their bread-and-butter stuff wasn’t working.
“We’ve seen that offense a lot,” said Rocori coach Mike Rowe. “It’s similar to a lot of teams we play in the Central Lakes Conference, so we were able to adjust quickly. Our kids played hard. Rogers played great, too. We had the benefit of some big plays, and turnovers were crucial.”
The Royals didn’t get on the board until 8:07 remained when, with the score 14-0, Jack McGuire slashed four yards for a score, two plays after setting it up with a 14-yard run.
Meyer didn’t let the Royals enjoy even that brief success very long as he blocked the extra point, took his team downfield for a 24-yard field goal by Christian Pedroza with four minutes left, then intercepted a Weber pass, clinching a semifinal berth at the Dome next week.
When Weber was sacked on a fourth-down play with 40 seconds left, the Royals trudged off the field, many of them breaking into tears that lasted through the post-game huddle.
Franz urged them to not feel too bad.
“I told them I am proud of them, the way they competed, their work ethic, their effort. Obviously, they are upset with the loss, because the put their heart and soul into it all year. But they have nothing to be disappointed about. They gave it their best shot and that’s all you can ask.”
About the senior group, he said, “They won three Mississippi 8 championships and went to state three times. That’s pretty rare. They are phenomenal kids and they worked hard for everything they earned.”
Meyer, operating in shotgun all evening, hit eight of his first 10 passes, the last of those a 10-yard touchdown to Sam Terres in the second quarter.
The 6-foot-3, 190–pound senior them missed five straight but finished 14-for-24 for 150 yards. Rogers had one interception, by Austin Barbeln early in the first quarter.
Meyer got his 101 yards on 23 keepers including one 34-yard run on the first scoring drive.
“We knew we would have trouble running the ball against Rogers,” said Rowe, “so we threw more than we normally do. Nate made a couple of big runs and threw the ball real well.”
The Rogers defense smothered the other ballcarriers so completely that Rocori handed off only nine times, preferring to keep the ball in their QB’s hands virtually every play.
“You saw how many tackles we missed against him,” said Franz. “He is not a power runner but he is so slippery, he makes you miss – and we are a good defensive team with a lot of good tacklers.”
The Rogers QB, meanwhile, had a tough time. After a 10-yard run on his first carry. Weber didn’t have any room the rest of the game and netted seven yards in 10 carries, while completing just seven of 19 passes for 40 yards with two interceptions.
“Our line got in his face the whole game,” said Meyer, a defensive back.
Kyle Williams broke one 24-yard run and totaled 67 yards in 11 carries for Rogers, and McGuire had 55 in 14 carries.
Rogers had one 20-yard gain on a fake punt in the first quarter with Barbeln throwing to Michael Schreiber.
A team accustomed to several big plays a game managed just one against Rocori.
That came when wide receiver Andrew Smith took a lateral from Weber and heaved the ball downfield to Austin Derouin for a 49-yard gain in the third quarter. Derouin had to wait for it a couple seconds and wrest it away from a defensive back. That big gainer plus a fourth-down 10-yard pass from Weber to McGuire gave the Royals a first down on the Rocori six, trailing 14-0.
But Rocori shut the door, helped by a third-down sack of Weber.
“That was a huge momentum-changer,” said Rowe.
Rocori 17, Rogers 6
Rocori …………….. 0 7 7 3 – 17
Rogers …………… 0 0 0 6 – 6
Roc – Sam Terres 10 pass from Nate Meyer (Christian Pedroza kick)
Roc – Meyer 1 run (Pedroza kick)
Rog – Jack McGuire 4 run (kick blocked)
Roc – Pedroza 24 field goal
Rushing – Rocori 32-106, Rogers 39-133
Passing – Rocori 14-24-150-1, Rogers 9-21-109-2
Total yards – Rocori 256, Rogers 247
Turnovers – Rocori 1 (int.), Rogers 3 (fum., 2 int.)
Penalties – Rocori 2-10, Rogers 5-34
Rushing – Meyer 23-101, Mac Muelle 7-1, Sam Moriarty 2-2
Passing – Meyer 14-24-150-1
Receiving – Terres 7-79, Pedroza 4-49
Interceptions – Drew Voselka, Meyer
Fumble recovery – Mueller
Sacks – Adam Dingman, Cory Asfeld, Levi Klein
Punting – Moriarity 3-33.3
Rushing – Kyle Williams 11-67, McGuire 14-55, Matt Weber 10-7, Nate Roehl 3-5, Mitch O’Neill 1-(-1)
Passing – Meyer 7-19-40-2, Andrew Smith 1-1-49-0, Austin Barbeln 1-1-20-0
Receiving – Austin Derouin 2-57, Michael Schreiber 1-20, MxGuire 1-10, O’Neill 2-8, Roehl 2-5. Smith 1-9
Interception – Barbeln
Sacks – Clay LeVasseur, Cyrus Biah
Punting – Josh Malin 2-35.0