By BRAD SALMEN
ST. BONIFACIUS For the first time in 46 years, the DC Charger football team is going to the state tournament.
The Chargers, who went 5-3 during the regular season and were the #3 seed in the Section 2AAA playoffs, punched their ticket to state with a 26-13 victory over #4 seed Providence Academy in the Section Championship game Friday at Crown College.
“The win was an exciting one for our program. I was really proud of our team and how well they were able to focus, be disciplined, and perform when it counted,” said DC head coach Ryan Weinandt.
Weinandt also credited the incredible fan support for not just this game, but the entire season. In the section final, the Chargers fans appeared to outnumber the Lions fans by at least a 3-1 count.
“We had an outstanding showing of fan support at the game,” Weinandt said. “We are very thankful for the support, and we’re proud of our players, school, cheerleaders, and community. We are very grateful.”
The Chargers will now face the Section 4AAA champion, Cannon Falls (9-1), in the Class AAA state quarterfinals (see related story).
The game will be played at Burnsville High School Saturday. Game time is 12 p.m.
Keys to the game: Winning at all three facets
After all was said and done, the game hinged on just a handful of game-changing plays.
“It was a game of big plays. Our defense, special teams, and offense all made big plays,” said Weinandt. “We didn’t play perfect, but the mistakes we made were minimal.”
Perhaps the two biggest turning points came from the usually-unsung special teams.
The first came early in the second quarter. With DC backed up near their own end zone, a Sanders Asplin punt bounced off the Lions’ punt returner, and was recovered by the Chargers.
That play set up DC’s second touchdown of the game one play later, as quarterback Asplin hit Joel Selseth for a 66-yard connection to go up 14-0.
The second came on the second-half opening kickoff.
Asplin’s kickoff was high and short, and the Lions appeared to have confusion about who would field the kick.
When nobody did, a streaking Grayson Londerville dove on the ball to give possession to the Chargers.
“That was maybe the biggest play of the game,” said Weinandt, as instead of having to play defense to start the half, the Chargers were able to take advantage of a short field on offense, scoring to go up 20-7.
Offensively, three of the Chargers’ four scores were on plays of 50 yards or more.
• Sanders Asplin scored the first touchdown of the game just a minute in, on a 50-yard run.
• After Providence Academy’s muffed punt, Asplin found Selseth on a deep post for a 6-yard score.
• Late in the fourth quarter, Asplin had his second big touchdown run of the game, a 72-yard, untouched scamper to put the game away.
DC also got a long, 69-yard run in the first quarter from Eli Gillman that resulted in a missed field goal.
“[Providence Academy] played some pretty aggressive defense as far as putting a lot of guys in the box, so we had some short gains but then busted out some really big plays,” said Weinandt. “Our offense kept grinding, and put up enough points to win. [Offensive lineman] Logan Kelly went down early, and Brandon Jurek came in and did an outstanding job. Our OL didn’t really skip a beat.”
Defensively, the Chargers bent but did not break throughout most of the game.
They stopped Providence Academy on two 4th downs deep in DC territory, and came up with some big interceptions as well.
Collin Asplin had the first big turnover, intercepting a deep pass in the first quarter to stop a Lions drive.
With the Lions trailing 20-7, and driving deep into Charger territory midway through the fourth quarter, Gillman had the second, intercepting a pass in the end zone that set up Asplin’s final touchdown.
“Our guys really made Providence Academy work to put points on the board. We didn’t give up many big plays,” said Weinandt. “They had several drives where they chunked down the field, but our D tightened up in the red zone.”
Overall, said Weinandt, it was a great team effort against a very good Providence Academy team.
“It is a win that our entire roster helped us prepare for, and should feel proud of,” he said.
The Chargers took control of the game early.
After receiving the opening kickoff, just three plays later DC had their sizeable fan base on their feet before they’d barely had a chance to sit down.
Quarterback Sanders Asplin ran a keeper on 1st-and-10 from the 50-yard line, running untouched into the end zone to put DC up 7-0, after Asplin kicked the extra point.
Providence Academy then had back-to-back drives that took them deep into DC territory, only to come up empty both times.
On the first, DC forced an incomplete pass on 4th-and-5 at the Chargers 19.
On the second, Collin Asplin intercepted a deep pass at the 10-yard line.
The Chargers had a chance to put points on the board on the ensuing offensive possession, after Gillman ran for 69 yards to the Lions’ 17-yard line.
Unfortunately, the drive stalled, and a field goal try was unsuccessful.
The DC defense held Providence Academy on downs, and got the ball at their own 16-yard line. They failed to advance, setting up Asplin’s punt that was touched by the Lions receiver, and recovered by DC.
One play later, Asplin hit Selseth in stride to put DC on top 14-0.
On the ensuing kickoff, PA’s Keyshawn Johnson had a big return to the DC 48. Four plays later, Hakim Daniels ran it in from 8 yards out to put the Lions on the board, 14-7.
The Chargers kicked off to start the second half, but recovered the kick with Londerville’s phenomenal play at the Providence Academy 23.
Five plays later, fullback Josh DeBoer punched it in from a yard out to put DC up 20-7. The extra point sailed just wide.
Providence Academy got the ball at their own 11-yard line after a penalty. They ran off a 16-play, 84-yard drive, but stalled on fourth down at the DC 5 after an incomplete pass.
The Chargers drove down the field to the Lion’s 33-yard line, but fumbled the ball, with PA returning it to the DC 41.
On 1st-and-10 from the DC 23, Gillman picked off the second pass of the game for DC in the end zone, giving the ball back to the Chargers.
Two plays later, Asplin fooled everyone on the Lions’ defense with a handoff fake, and raced untouched into the end zone to put the Chargers up 26-7.
Providence Academy got a late touchdown pass to pull to within 26-13, but it was too little, too late. The Lions attempted an onside kick but touched the ball before 10 yards to give the ball to DC with just over a minute left, and the Chargers knelt out the clock.
• The section championship victory marked the first time Dassel-Cokato advanced to the state tournament since the 1973 season. In 1972, the first year Dassel and Cokato combined, the Chargers took second in state. The following year, DC made the state tournament, but bowed out in the first round.
• Since then, the Chargers have advanced to the Section Championship game seven times before this season, only to lose each time: 1994, 1995, 1998, 2005, 2007, 2010, and 2018. This is Weinandt’s fifth section final, and his first championship win.
• The Chargers outgained the Lions 372-280. DC had 274 yards on the ground, and 98 through the air.
• DC QB Asplin had a game-high 134 yards rushing, on just eight carries, with 122 yards coming on two long touchdown scores. He also went 5-10 for 98 yards through the air, with a 66-yard TD to Selseth.
• Gillman also went over the century mark in rushing, finishing with 109 yards on 12 carries (9.1 YPC).
• DT Beau Nelson continues to play in “beast mode.” The Chargers’ leading tackler had seven tackles, including 1.5 sacks, bringing his season total to nine in that category.
• Besides making an incredible recovery on the second-half kickoff, Londerville finished with a team-high eight tackles. Logan Benson had 7.5, and Selseth added 7, with Will O’Brien had 6.5.
• Providence Academy quarterback Aidan Lampe was an efficient 19-25 for 173 yards and one TD, but also threw two costly interceptions.
• For the fourth time this season, the Chargers were not whistled for a single penalty. PA committed four penalties for 45 yards. In every single game this season, DC has been whistled for less penalties than their opponents.
Below are Weinandt’s comments on his players:
• “Sanders [Asplin] continued to be an efficient quarterback for our offense. He made some really good throws, and also ran the ball well.”
• “Josh DeBoer and Cole Evjen both had some key carries for us, but more impressively, excelled in blocking.”
• “Beau Nelson made some great plays from the DT position. His speed and explosiveness have proved difficult for opponents’ offensive lines.”