Karen Ferrian was attending St. Cloud State and had a few dates with Kaare Sanness. "She called home and said, 'I met this football player,' and I'd like to bring him home for a visit,' " Val Ferrian said. "I said, 'A football player? We're all for that.' "

Val was Karen's father, and also a former combatant in Nine-Man football for the Embarrass Panthers. That's where Kaare Sanness would be visiting — Embarrass, the tiny town in the woods of northeast Minnesota famed as the coldest dot on the state map.

Karen and Kaare were married. The only problem was logistic. Kaare came from Spring Grove, in the extreme southeast of Minnesota, and that's the area to which they moved and raised a family.

It is 357 miles from Embarrass to Spring Grove. And when three Sanness linemen, Zachary, Tanner and now Sam, came along to play Nine-Man for the Spring Grove Lions, the Ferrians would make the drive several times per autumn to watch their grandsons.

"Spring Grove has had some nice strings of wins, but that dang Grand Meadow … it's always the roadblock,'' Val said.

The Superlarks and the Lions are in Section 1. Spring Grove beat the Larks in 2011, when Zachary, the oldest Sanness, was a freshman and not yet in the lineup.

"We weren't there for that one, but we've been to the last five,'' Val said.

Always, Grand Meadow has won the playoff showdown and advanced to the state tournament. From there, the Larks have won the past three Nine-Man state championships.

In October, Spring Grove was rated No. 2 statewide behind Grand Meadow, before losing the regular-season finale to the Larks. The now-traditional rematch for the Section 1 title was held Friday at Rochester.

Val and Alvina, the grandparents, and Toby, the family shih tzu, made the drive from Embarrass again.

Grand Meadow 47, Spring Grove 21. It was the 47th straight victory and returned the Superlarks to the state tournament.

"Maybe next year,'' Val said by phone on Friday night. "Sam's a junior. That gives us one more shot at those birds.''

Read Patrick Reusse's blog at startribune.com/patrick. E-mail him at preusse@startribune.com.