The driving force behind Roseville’s greatest season ever, Jacques Perra ranks as one of the past decade’s best quarterbacks in the state.

Perra, the Star Tribune’s Metro Player of the Year, stepped up when internal expectations could not have been higher for a program seven years removed from its last winning season.

“The players, the coaches, everyone had a good feeling that this could be the year that great things could happen for this program,” Perra said.

A season-opening upset of Cretin-Derham Hall, Roseville’s first in Suburban East Conference play, set the tone. Now completing his third season as a starter, he leads Roseville (9-2) into its first state tournament semifinal appearance — 7 p.m. Thursday against Rosemount at the Metrodome.

He ranks No. 1 in Class 6A with 2,875 passing yards and 32 touchdown passes. His legacy “belongs up there” with former conference standout quarterbacks Adam Weber of Mounds View and Mark Alt of Cretin-Derham Hall, Stillwater coach Beau LaBore said.

Making a connection

Before this fall, Perra and longtime best friend Jesper Horsted collaborated on only one touchdown pass — in fourth grade. Going into Thursday’s game, they have co-authored 77 receptions for 1,432 yards and 19 touchdowns in their first full season working together. Horsted, a 6-3, 185-pound junior, has caught a touchdown pass in every game and exploded for 19 receptions, 293 yards and two scores in the state quarterfinals against Maple Grove.

“If he’s covered, I know if I throw it high enough he can go over a guy or two guys and make the catch,” Perra said.

Beyond the field, the duo spend summers boating on Lake Owasso near their homes. Perra said he gives Horsted daily rides to school and that “he probably eats at my house more than his own.”

Hard work pays off

Horsted developed a new appreciation for his old friend this summer.

“Our relationship went from fun to more business, and I saw how hard he works,” Horsted said. “He would have to drag me out of bed at times this summer to work out. He’s the strongest guy on our team, and he watches more film than anybody.” Perra, 6-3, 210 pounds, improved his foot speed and developed a better touch on throws downfield working with former Gophers quarterback Rickey Foggie during the summer. “You don’t need eyes to be his receiver,” Horsted said. “If you put your arms out, you’ll catch it.”

College interest

Perra said the Gophers have offered him a preferred walk-on spot. Northern Iowa and South Dakota State also have been in contact. Less than 48 hours after beating Maple Grove, Perra and Horsted returned to TCF Bank Stadium as guests of the Gophers program to watch the Penn State game. They were reminded of their special season throughout.

“Four or five people came up to us saying, ‘Good game,’ or ‘I went to Roseville and it’s awesome to see you guys in the semifinals,’ ” Perra said. “It’s been great.”

Shrugging off pain

Perra has played well despite frequent dislocations of his non-throwing (left) shoulder. The wear and tear, he said, started with competing in shot put and discus throw last spring. He wears a harness during games but said the shoulder has “probably come out five times this year,” most recently in the playoffs against Woodbury. “I just shrug it back in,’’ he said. “It doesn’t hurt at the time, but the next morning it’s sore.”

First love

For Perra, it was basketball. A summer on the AAU circuit prevented him from football preparations going into sophomore year. After he finished as the conference leader in total yards, basketball took a permanent spot in the back seat.

Classroom act

Perra sports a 3.8 grade-point average and has developed a love of woodworking.