St. Michael-Albertville hasn't approached this jump up to Class 6A cautiously. After the Knights' second consecutive rout of a quality opponent on the road, it's clear the Class 5A power of a year ago has cannonballed into the large-school pond.
They outhit and outhustled No. 3-ranked Blaine en route to a 40-20 victory that had nothing fluky about it. On Friday the Knights were the better team.
"We're not coming out to rebuild or anything," said Mitch Kartes, senior running back and safety. "We're coming out to make a statement. If we punch them in the mouth enough times, we should come out on top."
The Knights spotted the Bengals a touchdown on the opening drive of the game, then thoroughly dominated their hosts for the remainder. The running back tandem of Kartes, a combination of speed and strength who has committed to North Dakota State, and junior Desean Phillips routinely gashed the Blaine defense.
Kartes rushed 19 times for 178 yards and three touchdowns, punctuated by a 72-yarder in which he not only outran the Blaine defense, he ran right out of a shoe.
Phillips used his shiftiness and acceleration to run for 156 yards and a pair of scores, including a dagger of a 65-yard run one play after Blaine had cut the St. Michael-Albertville lead to 21-14 late in the third quarter.
"We've got a nice one-two punch," Knights coach Jared Essler said. "They're two different runners. Mitchell has the school record in the 100 meters, and Desean has one of the best jump cuts around."
Essler credited his team's past, playing in a tough 5A section, for preparing players to step up and compete with the state's biggest schools.
"We played in the best 5A district around, with Rogers, Elk River, Monticello, Buffalo, St. Francis. Those are good teams," he said. "It's just a matter of working hard and preparing. It doesn't matter if it's 5A teams or 6A teams, I'm proud of their effort."