Rocori’s lone score enough to defeat Byron
Class AAAA State Senifinal
by Bryan Zollman
In about as evenly as a football game could be played, about midway through the third quarter between Section 1AAAA winner Byron (10-1) and Section 8AAAA winner Rocori (9-2), it was clear that whoever could score as much as a safety just might win the game.
Both defenses hounded each other’s offenses as both squads had a difficult time driving the ball down field.
Finally, late in the third quarter Rocori got the ball on their 40-yard line and 13 plays and six minutes later senior quarterback Will Steil scored on a 2-yard run. It was all the Spartans would need as they won yet another close battle in their playoff journey that began with a 30-28 win in the section semifinals over Detroit Lakes. They followed that up with an upset victory over top-ranked and undefeated Becker, 30-21.
Then in the state quarterfinals they outlasted Orono 28-27.
This time they defeated a Byron squad that was making their first state tournament appearance since 2003. The Bears played equally hard on both sides of the ball and like Rocori had trouble pushing the ball down field. Both teams performed especially well on special teams with punts that pinned their opponent deep in their own territory.
Trailing 7-0 Byron put together a marathon drive of their own that lasted 12 plays and five minutes but ended with an incomplete pass on fourth down from Rocori’s 33-yard line.
With 1:41 to play, Rocori was able to get a first down on 2nd and 8 and run out the clock to advance to their first Prep Bowl final since 2019 when they defeated current NBA star Jalen Suggs and SMB 22-21 in overtime.
Will Steil’s older brother, Jack, was the quarterback on that championship team.
Steil finished the game with 67 yards rushing. Teammate Anthony Rodriguez led the team with 82 yards including a huge 8-yard gain on 3rd and 4 on the winning drive. Another big play on the game-winning drive was when Steil connected with Andy Pedroza on 3rd and 8 for a 10-yard reception and a first down. Steil was 11-for-13 passing for 75 yards.
Byron’s offense had similar numbers except for in the points column. Kale Robinson was 13-for-20 for 73 yards passing and the team finished with 73 net yards rushing thanks to 2.5 sacks by Rocori’s Dwight Kiffmeyer that helped stall Byron drives.
Rocori (10-2) will take on the winner of Hutchinson and North Branch Area. Byron finished their memorable season 10-2.