Mac Mueller and the Rocori Spartans put on an electric, no-huddle offensive show Friday night at Adamson Field.
Trailing 30-0 at halftime, the Brainerd Warriors made a valiant comeback in the second half before falling 48-28 to the defending Class 4A state champions in the season opener.
The win was Rocori’s first over Brainerd since 1991. It was only their second win against the Warriors in a series that encompasses 18 games.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Rocori head coach Mike Rowe said. “I’m proud of our boys. I’m also happy that Brainerd came out the second half and really fought hard. They battled with us through and through. They gave us a four-quarter football game.”
Mueller rushed 16 times for 160 yards and three touchdowns. He completed 14 of 21 passes for 212 yards and two scores. And, he ran for two 2-point conversions.
He spearheaded Rocori to 530 total yards and 24 first downs.
“He’s been in the spread since ninth grade, running the no-huddle stuff, so he’s comfortable,” Rowe said, “and you can see he doesn’t panic.
“He’s one of the finest athletes and he’s a great young man. He really showed his leadership, especially in the first half, getting us out to a lead like that.”
Brainerd rallied in the second half, scoring 21 points in the third quarter and 28 in the half. Conor Gessell ignited the Warriors’ comeback by returning the second-half kickoff 85 yards for a TD.
The Warriors crept within 42-28 before Rocori’s Jacob Herges ran 31 yards to seal the Spartans’ victory.
Rocori limited the Warriors to 289 total yards after yielding just 70 yards and five first downs in the first half.
“It’s a full game, and the first half we were outcoached, and we were outplayed,” Warriors head coach Ron Stolski said.
“We’re happy with the way we came back, but we just fundamentally didn’t look as good as we expected to,” Stolski added. “(Thursday’s) practice told me we were really ready. We needed to make some plays in the first half, we just didn’t, and Rocori did.
“We’ve come back from big deficits before but that’s a long haul. They’re a good team, well-coached. Everything was good about them.
“They just outplayed us plain and simple but, with that said, I think it was a little bit of a gut-check at the half. We came back and got 28 and thought maybe we’ve got a chance to get a little bit more. I think that’s what our kids can look back at and say is that we didn’t go home.”
The Spartans scored in the first two minutes on Mueller’s 11-yard pass to Nick Thorpe. Mueller ran 33 yards for a 12-0 lead with 40 seconds left in the quarter.
In the second quarter, he threw a 32-yard pass to Jake Huber and ran 6 yards for a 30-point halftime bulge.
Following Gessell’s thrilling kick return, the Spartans, as they did all night, responded immediately as Mueller ran 12 yards for a score and it was 36-7.
Brainerd’s Isaiah Smith grabbed a 32-yard TD pass from quarterback Luke Boran to make it 36-14.
But the Spartans responded again as Adam Dingmann ran 2 yards for another score and a 42-14 lead.
Isaiah Smith caught another TD pass from Boran, this one for 35 yards, and it was a 42-21 deficit.
Boran, who ran 2 yards for Brainerd’s final score with 8:06 left, completed 10 of 19 passes for 115 yards.
“Brainerd has such a strong tradition, they’re not going to back down from anyone,” Rowe said. “I think they’re going to be a really good team in the Central Lakes (Conference). They just had to find out what they had. I think now they’ve got their questions answered and they’ll be ready to go.”
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.