Graduating a dozen seniors from a Nine-Man lineup that played the first prep football game at the Vikings' U.S. Bank Stadium last fall followed by a return trip the next might seem inconceivable.
That is, unless you're talking about Cromwell-Wright.
Owning 18 state tournament trips, eight Prep Bowl appearances and four titles, the Cardinals are one of the state's most decorated small schools and sit just a win shy of going back to the ritzy structure of steel in Minneapolis next week.
If they want to do so, they will have to get past another Nine-Man juggernaut: the Stephen-Argyle Central Storm — a program that won a state-record 76 games between 2003 and 2008, including an unprecedented five straight state titles. In fact, the last time these two met was for the 2005 state crown.
The Storm (10-1) and Cardinals (11-0) clash again Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Bemidji State University in a state quarterfinal.
If they take to the Beavers' turf like they did at a cold Esko Stadium last Friday, Cromwell-Wright's run will go on, only adding to their Section 5 title win over Wrenshall, 50-12.
In a rematch of the 2014 final that the Cardinals also won, unbeaten Cromwell-Wright went up 15-0 in a flash, 22-6 by half and 43-6 after three quarters in their state-sealing encore Friday against the Wrens.
"I think there were some people who thought we weren't going to get back," said junior quarterback Drew Libbon, who ran for 153 yards and a score before receiving his blue medal from his father and school principal, Nathan, afterward. "We believed in ourselves and are going back. It's a good feeling."
"We wanted to prove what we've got," added classmate Cameron Cahoon, who had two touchdowns in a 21-point third quarter to ice it. "We just play smash-mouth football."
Adding to the scoring party was senior Nic Johnson, who darted for 155 yards and two TDs, including a 61-yarder just moments after a 20-yard interception return by sophomore Randy Wimmer that doused any would-be mojo from the Wrens (8-3). Johnson, a Minnesota State-Moorhead recruit clocked at a 4.52 40-yard dash, now has 1,349 yards and 21 TDs this fall.
"It makes it easy when you have speed like that," said Cardinals coach Jeff Gronner, now 123-36 in his 14th season.
Speed defined Wrenshall brothers Tyler and Jared Kelley, as the two totaled 3,270 rushing yards and 46 scores entering the night. Yet last week — in leading a team that scored 111 points in their previous two games — neither cracked 100 yards.
Wimmer said of the Cardinals: "They're incredible."
"They just took it to us," Wrenshall coach Jeremy Zywicki told the Duluth News Tribune after Friday's game. "They just have a solid football team top to bottom. There were just no holes."
IF YOU GO
State Class Nine-Man Quarterfinals:
Cromwell-Wright vs. Stephen-Argyle Central
5:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10
at Bemidji State University
Listen at WKLK 96.5 FM