Their lead in jeopardy, Dassel-Cokato defensive players forced an Annandale fumble near their own goal line with 3 minutes, 45 seconds left in the game Saturday, preventing a possible go-ahead touchdown.
Three plays later, sophomore running back Eli Gillman raced 87 yards with the clinching touchdown — his third score of the game — in Dassel-Cokato's 24-14 victory in a Class 3A semifinal at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Chargers (10-3) earned their first Prep Bowl berth.
"We've had six or seven games this year that were one-score games," Dassel-Cokato coach Ryan Weinandt said. "These guys have shown a ton of resiliency."
Annandale fumbled at the Dassel-Cokato 5-yard line on its opening drive. The Chargers' Gillman scored from 3 yards out on the ensuing drive.
Dassel-Cokato bumped that to 14-0 lead on Gillman's 2-yard TD run after a blocked punt.
Annandale (11-2) failed to cover the ensuing kickoff and Dassel-Cokato recovered at the Annandale 15. That led to a 27-yard field goal by Sanders Asplin for a 17-0 lead.
"Turnovers have kind of been our bugaboo all year and it cost us tonight," Annandale coach Matt Walter said.
The Cardinals controlled play for much of the rest of the game, cutting the deficit to 17-14 with touchdowns late in the first half and midway through the third quarter before their fateful fourth-quarter drive.
Pierz 20, Jackson County Central 14: Pierz, state champs in 2015 and 2017, has reached the semifinals in each of the last six seasons.
"Experience is big. It's something you can't teach," said coach Dan Saehr, in his 20th year leading the Pioneers. "A lot of these kids were part of our team last year."
That experience helped the Pioneers stay composed Saturday as they overcame an early 14-point deficit to rally past the Huskies.
Michael Leidenfrost caught a 48-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Peter Schommer to give Pierz its first lead with 1:19 to go. Leidenfrost then made a leaping interception to seal the victory.
Saehr credited offensive coordinator Dave Rocheleau with the play call that set up what he called "one of the bigger plays in school history.''
Matthias Algarin's 13-yard score inched Pierz (13-0) within 14-12 with 2:07 left in the third quarter.
Jackson County Central (11-1) scored first when quarterback Rudy Voss capped off the opening drive of the game with a 38-yard touchdown run. Voss then threw a short pass to Elijah Meium-Bratrud, who sprinted 60 yards for a score.
Pierz managed only one first down on its first four possessions before Schommer lobbed a deep pass to Blake Kowalczyk for a 60-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter.