Jalen Suggs saw Rocori’s offensive formation and knew exactly what was coming.
The Spartans, trailing 21-20 in overtime, with the Class 4A title on the line, were going for the win, and they were going to their go-to play in those situations: “Bait.”
Rocori sends the bulk of its players out left in a “swinging gate” type of formation. But Spartans quarterback Jack Steil takes the snap and goes right, looking only for his best receiver — Andrew Anderson.
Suggs was well aware of it all. As the man covering Anderson, he knew what he was going to do. He was going to jump the route, knock down the pass and celebrate another state title — a dream final moment to cap off a remarkable high school football career.
But on the gridiron, dreams don’t always become reality. This was Rocori’s moment. Steil fired a low dart to Anderson’s outside shoulder, just outside of Suggs’ reach, and Anderson made a brilliant grab. Ballgame. Rocori 22, SMB 21.
“I just knew I had to go to my best wide receiver, and I trusted that he could make the play,” Steil said. “It was our best 2-point play, and we had to come up big in that situation. And we did.”
Rocori is the 2019 Class 4A state football champion.
“The effort and the team that they put together, they just deserve so much credit,” Spartans coach James Herberg said. “These guys are so resilient.”
Resilience was plentiful in Friday’s titanic tilt.
Suggs — one of, if not the, state’s best player in both football and basketball — marched SMB (12-1) down the field for a score on its first drive of the game to take a 7-0 lead. The defending state champ looked prime for a repeat. But then Rocori (11-2) struck back.
On fourth and goal from the 3-yard line, Steil scrambled in for a score later in the first quarter to knot the contest at 7-7, setting the tone for the heavyweight dual. Rocori’s defense settled in and made things difficult for Suggs and Co.
For that, Herberg credited one of the program’s alumni. Gunnar Feldhege was a receiver at Rocori who just finished his sophomore campaign at Bemidji State in which he started at defensive back and led the team in tackles. He had a few days off prior to Thanksgiving and, when he returned home, he was brought back to his old high school practice to simulate Suggs’ speed.
“I think that’s probably the ‘ah-ha’ moment for us,” Herberg said. “Because when he showed up, that’s just a gear that we could not replicate.”
Late in the first half, with the game still knotted, Suggs went down to the turf in clear pain. He suffered a left knee injury. And while he returned to start the second half, it was clear his mobility was limited.
That forced SMB, a co-op between St. Paul Academy, Minnehaha Academy and Blake, to lean more so on the running game, which was effective.
Steil scored again in the third to put Rocori up 14-7, but Sanjay Redd tied the game with a 3-yard run in the fourth. Both teams went scoreless over the final nine minutes to send the game to overtime — the first state title game to do so since 2014.
On the first possession of the extra session, Suggs delivered one last thrilling play like the ones fans have seen so often over the past four years, scrambling to his right on third-and-goal and lofting a ball into the air that fell into the arms of a sliding Terry Lockett for a 6-yard score.
On the ensuing possession, SMB’s defense forced Rocori into a fourth-and-goal from the 15 yard line. Steil said he didn’t say much to his team, as everyone knew it had to make a play. And, with the game on the line, he hit Jayden Philippi for a 15-yard scoring strike in the end zone.
Immediately, Herberg signaled for the 2-point try.
Suggs said the winning conversion pass tipped off his pinky. He was in the right spot at the right time, but didn’t get the right result.
“That’s football, man, that’s life,” Suggs said with tears in his eyes. “You can’t always control those things.”
Sometimes, you just have to tip your cap. It was a sour ending to an otherwise extraordinary high school football career. SMB coach Chris Goodwin said Suggs — a four-year starter at quarterback — “set the standard” for the co-op. He, along with fellow hyper-talented teammates such as Kaden Johnson, Terry Lockett and Craig McDonald, put the program on the map with not only their skill, but their passion.
Suggs is now done with high school football, and perhaps the sport in general. He’s widely expected to pursue basketball after high school. That’s made the last month-plus “bittersweet” for the senior.