Rochester Lourdes' football coaches felt something missing even as the Eagles built an undefeated record this season.
"To be honest, we haven't had much adversity this year," coach Mike Kesler said. "We always kind of wondered how that was going to be handled."
The Class 3A semifinal against defending champion and top-ranked Pierz on Saturday provided a proving ground. The past four state championships have been split between the Eagles (2014, 2016) and the Pioneers (2015, 2017).
Lourdes successfully endured the game's tension and momentum swings, winning 25-20. The second-ranked Eagles ended Pierz's 24-game winning streak and advanced to the Prep Bowl at 1 p.m. next Saturday.
"The guys stepped up today and had that next-play mind-set," Kesler said.
When trouble knocked, Lourdes (13-0) responded. The defense stopped two Pierz chances inside the red zone.
"That shows we're able to overcome adversity and not get our heads down," said senior linebacker Jake Groteboer, who recorded a game-high five tackles for loss.
When the Pierz defense subjected Eagles running back Zach Jungels to what he called "probably the most physical game I've played in," he dug deep and ran for 109 yards and a touchdown.
And when Eagles quarterback Matthew Hayford threw a fourth-quarter interception with his team leading 18-14, he ended the ensuing Pierz drive with an interception of his own. His 46-yard return to the Pierz 47-yard line set up the decisive scoring drive.
"You've got to stay together through those hard times and you'll end up making that play," Hayford said.
Pierz (11-1) lamented missed opportunities, starting with a touchdown return on the game's opening kickoff that was called back by a penalty. The Pioneers fumbled on their second possession at the Lourdes 12-yard line.
"It was a great game between two very good teams," Pierz coach Leo Pohlkamp said.