College football: RCTC rallies for improbable state title

ST. CLOUD — Wild, crazy, unbelievable, speechless. All words used by Rochester Community and Technical College football players and coaches to describe Sunday's MCAC state championship game.

ST. CLOUD — Wild, crazy, unbelievable, speechless — all words used by Rochester Community and Technical College football players and coaches to describe Sunday's MCAC state championship game.

The Yellowjackets, ranked second in the nation, didn't appear they would have much to say about Sunday's wild contest with North Dakota State College of Science. But with their season on the line, and a possible shot at a national championship looming, the Yellowjackets rallied for an improbable 45-41 win over No. 12 NDSCS to capture their sixth straight state title.

"I don't even have words," RCTC assistant coach Rob Neumann said. "I can't even explain it."

In an up-and-down, back-and-forth game, RCTC trailed 41-22 going into the fourth quarter before staging a comeback with three straight touchdowns. RCTC had led 15-0 in the first quarter and 22-21 at the half.

"Unreal, you can't describe it, down (19) going to the fourth quarter," RCTC wide receiver Patrick Bolton said. "Energy was a big factor, and our belief."


The Yellowjackets (11-0) played a flawed game, as they were able to overcome a whopping nine turnovers, but they made big play after big play with the outcome on the line.

"I've never seen (nine turnovers) and win the game like that. It's unbelievable," RCTC quarterback Nick Rooney said. "We messed up, but we kept battling."

Rooney and Bolton were at the forefront of the comeback. The duo hooked up for all three touchdowns — from 3, 29 and 9 yards — in the fourth quarter. The 9-yard strike, the one that put RCTC ahead for good, came with just 2:18 left to play.

"Just keep going," Bolton said. "The key to the fourth quarter was our belief."

The game was wild all the way around. The two quarterbacks — Rooney and Dallas Cook — combined for 899 yards passing and 10 touchdowns, but also eight interceptions. NDSCS scored 41 points, but still had to punt 10 times. And neither team was able to get their run game going as NDSCS (8-3) had 3 yards rushing and the Yellowjackets had 63.

Rooney's play mirrored RCTC's. He entered the game with five interceptions for the season, but he threw five on Sunday. But he also set a national record. He entered the game with 50 TD passes this season and added five more. His 55 touchdowns passes is a single-season record for a junior college quarterback.

"I wanted to win foremost, but I wanted that record, too," said Rooney, who has 103 career TD passes at RCTC, far and away the most in team history

Bolton also had a record-setting day. He caught a single-game RCTC record 14 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns. Bolton extended his school record for career TD catches and now has 41 in his career and 18 this season.


Big plays in fourth quarter

Aside from the touchdown passes, Rooney completed a number of big passes in the final quarter when any margin for error might have resulted in a loss.

On RCTC's first TD drive of the fourth quarter, Rooney hit Bolton with a 23-yard pass on a third-and-20 play. He then found Connor Watts with a 55-yard strike.

On the second TD drive of the quarter, pulling RCTC within 41-38, Rooney found Bolton on a 63-yard gain and then the pair hooked up on the 29-yard TD on a fourth-and-15 play.

On the game-winning TD drive, Rooney slipped a 7-yard pass to Terrance Bowers on fourth-and-2. On the next play, Rooney found Bolton with the game-winning score.

"They had a good game plan and it was working, too," Rooney said. "But we just kept fighting, adjusting to what they did and made it happen."

"We just kept on believing in each other and kept getting after it," RCTC head coach Bill Quistorff said.

RCTC finished with 573 total yards while NDSCS had 392. Cook passed for 389 yards with five TDs and three interceptions. The RCTC defense forced four turnovers. Lakye Alston intercepted two passes and then recovered a fumble on the kickoff right after RCTC's go-ahead TD late in the fourth quarter.


RCTC, with a Minnesota-best 21 state titles, will now wait to see if it will earn a spot in the national championship game or get another bowl bid.

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