(ROSENDALE, Mo.) North Andrew was the toughest out in 8-man football last season.
The Cardinals sported a perfect record heading into the state championship game, but fell just short capturing the title in a 56-38 loss to Stanberry.
"It's an awesome experience, but when you get there and lose, it doesn't feel great at all," senior quarterback Nate Atkins said.
"I was pretty hurt last year after that whole deal," senior running back Quayde Bauman added. "It left a sour taste in your mouth and we're definitely ready to get back after it."
An 11-1 finish would be cause for celebration for many teams, especially under a first-year head coach.
But Jonathan Schoonover brought big expectations to Rosendale and he and the team are thinking bigger.
"They've come out and they've stepped up," he said. "They know what we expect this year. Last year was a starter year and this year they understand what we want and how we want it done."
All but two of North Andrew's wins came by at least 44 points last season, but the Cardinals feel the offense could be even more explosive this fall. That won't be an easy task with replacing the likes of Kolby Atkins and an explosive Zach Officer.
"People don't realize it, but the amount we improved last year was absolutely insane," Bauman said. "We're trying to pick up right where we left off and just improve that much more this year."
But a goal left unfulfilled has given them on offseason to stir, time to heal from injuries, and a reason to focus.
"We are more efficient this year," Atkins said. "We're getting things done quicker and quicker. We've got to finish it because this is it for us. But, being there before, we'll definitely know what to expect when we get there."
"The most important play is the next play. That's what we're focusing on this year is the next play," Schoonover said. "Whatever happens, happens, and as long as we do our best we'll be alright."
The Cardinals open the season on the road on Aug. 30th at St. Joseph Christian.