Lars Hanson (52), Rook Rowe (8), and Ryan Mazurek (12) celebrate after Rowe's touchdown run on Holy Angels' opening possession. The Stars defeated the Spartans 20-8 at Husky Stadium. Photo by Taylor Lunemann, SportsEngine
Holy Angels tailback Thomas Shelstad carries the ball during the Stars' 20-8 victory over Rocori to advance to the Class 4A semifinals Friday night. Photo by Taylor Lunemann, SportsEngine
This year's crop of seniors remember Holy Angels' last state tournament appearance in 2014.
That class of Stars players made their second go at the Class 4A state tournament a memorable one by taking control early and never letting go in a 20-8 win over Rocori at Husky Stadium at St. Cloud State University on Friday night.
"We're a very senior-led, very experienced group and that had a lot of that confidence going in," said Holy Angels coach Jim Gunderson. "They put this goal in their heart and gave it everything they had. I'm proud of the boys."
That confidence showed up early, as the Stars defense forced a quick three-and-out and following a short punt, took over at the Spartans' 44-yard-line.
They took full advantage of that short field when junior fullback Rook Rowe plunged into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown. Aaron Sanchez booted the extra point to put them up 7-0 midway through the first.
It was a key score against a Rocori (10-1) team that surrendered just 11.9 points per game on the season.
"It was huge," said senior quarterback Joseph Heimbold of the offense finding the end zone on the opening drive. "Our offense has been a little slow coming out lately, but getting that score was a huge momentum shifter. I think it got everyone else -- the defense and special teams -- rolling."
Heimbold added to the Stars' lead when he found the corner on a keeper to score from three yards out with 24 seconds before halftime to make it a 13-0 lead at the break.
The Spartans attempted an onside kick to open the second half, but Holy Angels (10-1) recovered and capitalized on the short field when Heimbold connected with senior receiver John Kosmach on a deep ball for a 41-yard touchdown strike.
Rocori finally broke through late in the third when sophomore quarterback Jack Steil punched in a 1-yard touchdown. He added the two-point conversion to cut the Stars' lead down to 20-8.
But that's all the defense would allow by the end of the night.
"They have been dominating teams with the run game and those big tackles," Gunderson said of the Rocori offense. "They got rolling when they scored eight, and the game could have tetered either way, but our guys responded, made a couple great plays and forced them to throw which played into our favor."
With the wind gusts cutting through the 20-degree temperature and the snow beginning to come down, the Holy Angels players celebrated their quarterfinals win, but know there is more ahead of them.
"Everybody gave their best effort, and everyone is super happy," Heimbold noted. "We're confident, but can't be overconfident. We're going to have to prepare like we do every week and go out and do our business."
Rocori quarterback Jack Steil notched the Spartans' only TD in his team's 20-8 loss to Holy Angels in the Class 4A quarterfinals on Friday. Photo by Taylor Lunemann, SportsEngine
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