MINNEAPOLIS — Michael Leidenfrost caught a pass from Pierz quarterback Peter Schommer and ran it 48 yards for the game-winning touchdown as the Pioneers beat the Jackson County Central Huskies 20-14 in the Class 3A State Semifinals Saturday, Nov. 16, at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Not only did he find the end zone with 1:19 remaining, Leidenfrost picked off Huskies thrower Bradley Buhl Jr. with 19 seconds remaining to seal the victory for the Pioneers.
“That was really cool,” Leidenfrost said of the interception. “Just knowing when you catch that ball you’re going to play in the championship ... it’s awesome. Just knowing that we will be playing again in two weeks is a great feeling.”
Huskies quarterback Rudy Voss got the scoring started in the first quarter with his 40-yard scamper on a quarterback keeper.
After a Pierz punt, JCC took three plays to find the end zone again — this time on a 60-yard pass from Voss to Elijah Meium-Bratrud. Pierz found itself in a 14-0 hole quickly in the first quarter.
“You look at the first quarter and not much went our way,” Pierz head coach Dan Saehr said. “I remember thinking we needed to get a stop right now or the wheels were going to start to fall off pretty quickly.”
Pierz got that stop on a fourth down in the second quarter. The next play for the Pioneers resulted in a 60-yard touchdown pass from Schommer to Blake Kowalczyk. After a blocked extra point, Pierz trailed 14-6.
JCC ended the half missing a 29-yard field goal that would have made it a two-score game going into half.
The Huskies outgained the Pioneers 232-97 in the first half, and Pierz only managed two first downs.
Pierz’s offense started to get things going in the third quarter. A 31-yard completion to Mattias Algarin set Pierz up in the red zone for the first time all game. Three plays later, it was Algarin again running it in the end zone from 13 yards out to make the score 14-12.
JCC punted on its next drive, and the Pioneers moved the ball into Huskies territory to start the fourth quarter.
Huskies cornerback Jack Brinkman picked off Schommer with 9:55 left in the game. JCC then milked six minutes of clock and got into Pioneers territory hoping to salt the game away.
“We got an interception and we were going down the field," Voss said. "I really thought we were going to put them away there."
On fourth and one from Pierz’s 24, JCC fullback Buhl Jr. was stuffed at the line of scrimmage and the Pioneers took over with 3:24 remaining. With 1:19 left, Leidenfrost found the end zone for his game-winning score as the Pioneers ended the game with 20 unanswered points.
“We motioned Matthias over and knew we were going to get one-on-one backside with Michael,” Saehr said of the game-winning touchdown play. “And in that situation, you will take that. Hats off to our offensive coordinator, David Rochuleau, who made a tremendous call. I’m sure that will go down as one of the biggest plays in school history.”
For the Huskies, it was emotional after the loss knowing how close they were to advancing to the championship.
“Came up short on a fourth-and-one and they just happened to make one more play then us,” Voss said. “Got to give them credit; they are a heck of a team. I can’t say enough about my team — they played their hearts out.”
For Pierz, the defense only allowed 76 yards in the second half. Maverick Kowalczyk led the Pioneers in tackles with 10 total.
“First half, I started off not reading my keys really well,” Maverick Kowalczyk said. “After listening to coach throughout the game, I started to realize I needed to read my keys and we needed to play our best game. We adjusted throughout the game and made plays.”
Buhl Jr. led the Huskies with 108 yards on 32 carries. Voss rushed for 51 yards on seven carries, with 40 of them coming on his touchdown in the first quarter.
“I’m not going to hang my head — that was everything we had,” JCC head coach Tom Schuller said. “We lost to a sensational Pierz team.”
Despite the victory, Pierz was outgained 308-299, but came out with big plays when it mattered most. Blake Kowalczyk led the Pioneers in both rushing with 78 yards and receiving with 66 yards, and Algarin chipped in with 51 yards rushing and 37 yards receiving. When it mattered most, Pierz’s offensive line gave the Pioneers the push necessary to get the extra yard.
“One of our strengths is our defensive line,” Schuller said of containing Pierz’s offensive line. “That was a really good matchup, and it turned out to be a pretty good war. They got us on a couple big plays, but to hold them to 20 points in my mind was impressive.”
Pierz now gets to a bye in between the semifinals and championship games. They will play Dassel-Cokato in the Class 3A State Title game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“We will give them a couple of days off for physical and mental rest,” Saehr said of the bye. “We'll come back and be ready to roll. They know what they are playing for now.”