The sun was blazing and the lone comfort against this was a brisk southwest wind as the 4 p.m. kickoff time approached in Richfield on Friday. The Minneapolis North Polars, now moved up to Class 3A, would be taking on Academy of Holy Angels, a section winner a year ago in Class 4A.

Just before the national anthem, the public address announcer offered a "welcome back" to Cashmere Hamilton-Grunau, not a member of the home team but rather a standout senior linebacker for North.

Hamilton-Grunau had suffered three wounds in his legs from gunshots in late March in a random attack.

Earlier this week, he told reporters, "It's a blessing to be here," and then he would fulfill his vow to be back playing at full speed in what became a 41-14 victory for the Polars.

"Absolutely, Cash was among our outstanding players today," coach Charles Adams said. "We had a lot of those. When you move up a class like we have, to 3A, you have to be more physical.

"You have to pound the ball and stop the run. That's the goal."

No matter the class, a team wasn't going to beat the swift Polars by making more plays on the edges.

"Control the ball; slow the game down," Adams said. "That has been the formula for success against us."

A year ago, Howard Lake-Waverly stunned the Polars — rated No. 2 statewide in Class 2A — in the section semifinals.

"They did a good job controlling the ball, and we also turned it over nine times," Adams said.

Holy Angels was playing North for the first time in Adams' 15 seasons as a head coach, and it also came in intent on ball control.

The Stars opened with a kickoff return to the 35, and then went into as tight a formation as a team can run without the quarterback behind center.

They ran 14 plays to go 65 yards for a touchdown. They took up 12 minutes. North helped out by jumping offside on consecutive hard counts early in the drive.

"First game of the season," Adams said. "We had to calm down."

The Polars also had to draw on what was learned during a preseason scrimmage session with Elk River, Spring Lake Park and Roseville.

"Steve Hamilton at Elk River is this state's godfather of run and pound out of a tight formation," Adams said. "I talk to him quite a bit. When we run into a team that's going to try to play us like that and I don't call him, he gets mad at me.

"We wanted that scrimmage with Elk River to have our players experience run-and-pound at its best. I feel like they learned a lot that day."

The Polars certainly drew on something after Holy Angels' first, time-consuming drive. The Stars scored only once more, on a second pass of the game in the last minute of the first half — 63 yards from Gavin Coughlin to Isaiah Bird-Winston running alone behind the Polars defense.

That made it 14-13 for Holy Angels at halftime, but after that, the Polars were nasty against the run, in full chase when Coughlin tried to pass … and offensively?

There's a new force in the Polars backfield — senior Kahlil Brown, previously more a linebacker than a battering ram back.

"Kahlil, and Maleek Powell, another senior, another terrific runner, and they both have been behind outstanding backs," Adams said. "They've been waiting to take over."

Brown broke a 50-yard run to Holy Angels 5 to start the second half. The Stars attempted to rise up for a goal stand, popped Brown a couple of times, and he bounced off those hits and went left into the end zone.

This was followed by Holy Angels getting pinned deep, attempting a punt that went straight up and hung in the wind. The ball landed with backspin and headed rapidly toward the Stars' end zone.

"I've never seen a punt act like that in my life," Adams said. "I didn't want the ball to go into the end zone for a safety. I wanted to get a touchdown out of it."

The ball was covered at the 1. The touchdown followed, to make it 27-14, and the Polars were on the way to an extra-impressive win over a solid Class 4A opponent.

This all came after the powerful moment the Polars will be using again this season to remember Deshaun Hill, the dynamic player murdered on Feb. 9, 2022, walking to a bus stop not far from school.

"Deshaun would be a senior this season, a great quarterback for us," Adams said. "We take the delay-of-game and remember Deshaun on our first play. And like Holy Angels did today, all of our opponents have been declining it, as their show of respect."