COLD SPRING, Minn. — Rocori won an actual state title in 2019, beating SMB 22-21 in an overtime thriller in the Class AAAA final.
Even though the second-ranked Spartans weren’t able to repeat in the year of COVID-19 — no high school state tournaments were held this fall — the players looked at Friday’s Section 8AAAA championship game against third-ranked Grand Rapids with the same attitude.
“We said going into it that this was going to be our state title game,” Rocori quarterback Camdyn Bauer said after guiding his team to a 34-6 victory over the Thunderhawks. “It’s the two top teams in (Class AAAA), it could’ve been the matchup for the state championship and we treated it like that.”
Bauer played free safety during the Spartans’ run to No. 1 a year ago, but this time he was the offensive impetus by completing 15 of 26 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns.
“A lot of people after we lost (2019 quarterback) Jack Steil said, ‘How are you going to replace that kid?’ ” Rocori coach James Herberg said. “I think a lot of people didn’t have a clue as to the work ethic that Cam Bauer had. He literally got so much better at throwing the ball during the offseason, but he did it because he worked so hard at it. He’s a dynamic player and he showcased it tonight.”
Bauer credited balls kept heated on the sideline for the precision touch he showed on scoring throws of 64 yards to Luke Humbert, 25 yards to Drew Schneider and 9 yards on fourth-and-7 to Tucker Haakonson.
Quarterbacking the team was more gratifying than playing defense as a junior, Bauer said.
“I felt like I got to lead it this year,” he said. “Last year I was a part of, but to be in the forefront and leading it has more meaning to it.”
Grand Rapids (6-1), which had its first unbeaten regular season since 1976, tied the game 6-6 midway through the second quarter on Dane Kennedy’s 10-yard run.
But Bauer needed only two plays to give the Spartans (7-0) the lead for good by rolling right away from defensive pressure and hitting Humbert at midfield. The senior slotback did the rest by spinning away from a tackle, cutting across field and diving into the end zone after outracing the Thunderhawks’ secondary.
Bauer teamed up with Schneider with 45 seconds left in the half on a perfectly placed deep throw at the goal line that gave Rocori a 20-6 halftime lead.
A comeback wasn’t in the offing for Grand Rapids as quarterback Trent Johnson was intercepted three times.
“They were sharp, and we beat ourselves with turnovers and poor field position,” Thunderhawks coach Greg Spahn said.
It was a game that wasn’t even scheduled until Wednesday’s announcement by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz that high school sports were going to take a four-week pause because of rising coronavirus cases. The teams were slated to play section semifinals Saturday — one day after the moratorium started — so the section committee decided to allow the top two seeds to play for the title.
“We’re incredibly happy and incredibly proud (to play the game),” Spahn said. “We wanted to play the best and see where we’re at, and they were better tonight. At least there’s no doubt.”
Grand Rapids averaged 43 points per game this season and scored 89 in its most recent outing but found the going much tougher against the Spartans.
“That was a tough task for us,” Johnson said. “That wasn’t our greatest game and we’re all disappointed that we had to go out like that. Credit to Rocori, they played great all year, but we’re bummed out.”
Like players around the state, Johnson was just glad to get a chance to play. It’s something he will remember forever.
“Most of all, it’s going to be the relationships with players and coaches that we’re going to miss,” he said. “I’ll never forget this year.”
Both coaches were appreciative of the efforts made to get the game — and the entire season — played.
“We were able to play football during a pandemic,” Spahn said. “I told the boys, ‘Once this thing fades, you’re going to look back and be really proud of everything you did.’ ”
Herberg expressed a similar sentiment.
“I’m just incredibly proud of our kids and coaching staff,” he said. “Forty-eight hours to prepare for a great Grand Rapids team. Our kids executed and did everything we asked. It put an exclamation point on an odd year.
“It was the marquee matchup in the entire state tonight regardless of class.”
Grand Rapids 0-6-0-0—6
R — Luke Humbert 7 run (conversion failed)
GR — Dane Kennedy 10 run (conversion failed)
R — Luke Humbert 64 pass from Camdyn Bauer (Joshua Johnston kick)
R — Drew Schneider 25 pass from Bauer (Johnston kick)
R — Carter Thelen 26 run (Johnston kick)
R — Tucker Haakonson 9 pass from Bauer (Johnston kick)