Helmets are high as Lions celebrate in the end zone with snow falling at Buffalo. Photo by Jon Speltz
Helmets are high as Lions celebrate in the end zone with snow falling at Buffalo. Photo by Jon Speltz
Spring Grove, enjoying its third trip to the state football tournament, lines up for the first time against Section 8 champion Stephen-Argyle Central in a state semi-final at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Nov. 16, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

The two schools, in opposite corners of Minnesota, could not be much farther apart and still be in the same state. With an enrollment of 81, the school in Stephen is 518 miles and an estimated eight-plus hours driving time from Spring Grove (enrollment 101).

"Stephen-Argyle is very quick and athletic," said Spring Grove head coach Zach Hauser. "They are a run-first offense with a stingy defense.

"Playing in U.S. Bank Stadium will be a great experience for everyone. For how cold it was on Friday, playing indoors will feel pretty good."

State-ranked No. 8 Stephen-Argyle Central (11-1) eliminated previously undefeated state-ranked No. 2 Cromwell-Wright in the quarterfinals, 39-22. That leaves SG (12-0) as the only unbeaten team among the four semi-finalists.

The other semi-final is at the same site on Friday morning between unranked Russell-Tyler-Ruthton (10-2) and state-ranked No. 6 Nevis (9-2). The semi-final winners advance to the Friday, Nov. 24 championship game at 10 a.m. - also at U.S. Bank .

Nevis handed Stephen-Argyle its only loss (42-20) in the final game of the regular season.

It is the 15th appearance at state for Stephen-Argyle with seven previous state titles, including five straight from 2003 through 2007.

The Storm's 2003 championship came in the same season that Spring Grove first played at state. Those Lions hosted a 42-12 state quarterfinal rout of Southwestern United and were 12-0 before being edged in a semi-final at the Metrodome versus Hillcrest Lutheran, 19-16.

In 2003, SG had a high school enrollment of 101, the exact same number of students listed in 2017.

The current 2017 Spring Grove gridders are the only other Lions to win 12 games and advance to the state semi-finals and the first to be state-ranked No. 1.

The second SG trip to state came in 2011 when the state-ranked No. 5 Lions (11-0) dropped an 8-7 decision to No. 8 Wheaton/Herman-Norcross on a controversial goal line call at Spring Lake Park High School.

Southeast Minnesota football will be in the spotlight again on the same surface right after the Spring Grove game when defending state champion Caledonia plays in a Class AA semi-final at approximately 2 p.m.

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9-Man State Tournament

Spring Grove 34, Verndale 6

Stephen-Argyle Central 39, Cromwell-Wright 22

Russell-Tyler-Ruthton 8, Mountain Lake Area 6

Nevis 42, North Woods 14

>>SEMI-FINALS

11/16 SG vs. Stephen Argyle

11/17 R-T-R vs. Nevis

>>CHAMPIONSHIP FINALS

11/24 Minneapolis 10 a.m. U.S. Bank Stadium