By Kevin White | Photos by Matthew Putney
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — There are 56 football teams in Iowa’s Class A. And for the third time in four years, Grundy Center and West Hancock are meeting for the state championship.
Grundy Center holed his ticket to the Finals for the fourth straight season, receiving five touchdown passes from junior Colin Gordon in a 49-20 semifinal win over Woodbury Central on Thursday at the UNI Dome.
“It’s a battle of titans,” Gordon said. “The best teams in Class A of the last four years are back to work. We will be ready.”
Grundy Center (12-0) meets West Hancock (12-0) in Thursday’s 1pm championship game here. In 2019, West Hancock defeated the Spartans 21-17, and last season the Eagles narrowly won again by Head Mark Sanger, 19-14. Grundy Center also lost to Iowa City Regina in the 2020 championship game, 52-28.
“I think if you were to ask Coach Sanger, he’d probably say that over the last four or five years, West Hancock and Grundy Center have been the top two teams in the state’s Class A,” said Grundy Center head coach Travis Zajac said.
The semifinals were also a repeat, as Grundy Center defeated the Wildcats 28-7 in last year’s semifinals. A year later, the Spartans opened the game with three touchdowns in the last six minutes of the first half and led by the same 28-7 as last year.
The Spartans rushed for 73 yards in 10 games and Justin Knaack’s 8-yard touchdown rush gave Grundy Center a 14-7 lead with 5:55 left in the second quarter.
After a three-and-out, Dylan Knaack put down a punt in one hop and returned it 31 yards to the Woodbury Central 31. Then the Spartans found a bit of happiness. Gordon seemed ready to run at first, but then shuffled back and fired one over his body into the end zone. It hit receiver Tanner Laube’s chest and rocketed into the air where teammate Tiernan Vokes caught up with it to complete the 16-yard touchdown and make it 21-7.
“I probably shouldn’t have thrown it but I just threw it to my guys and once again they’re just making plays all over the field,” Gordon said.
Pressure from Ryder Ross then pushed Drew Kluender into an interception. Stuart Whitehill returned it 24 yards to the Wildcat 13. Gordon blasted his third touchdown pass of the half, an 8-yarder on Tate Jirovsky, for a 28-7 lead by 39 seconds in the second quarter.
Zack Butler then pulled in a long pass from Kluender, but Tanner Laube made a dive, knuckle tackle to prevent an 84-yard touchdown and stopped it after a 77-yard gain at the 7. Grundy Center made a defensive stand , Kluender held for a 1-yard gain and followed it with three straight incompletes. Ben Wegmann and Laube had broken passes on the second and third descents, and Klünder’s fourth descent pass was high. It was the last game of the half and the Spartans walked away with a 21-point lead intact.
Justin Knaack’s 7-yard touchdown run and Gordon’s fourth touchdown pass, 21 yards to Vokes for his third score, started a running clock at 42-7. But Woodbury Central responded with two points, then almost made it a two-point game. However, the Wildcats fumbled at the Grundy 1 and the Spartans recovered in the end zone.
“I can’t say enough about my team,” said Woodbury Central coach Kurt Bremer. “These kids don’t know what quitting is.”
Gordon completed 16 of 23 for 248 yards and the five points. A defensive starter sophomore, the 6-foot-1, 181-pounder has blossomed into a leading player in his freshman year as a starting quarterback.
“He’s a really good footballer,” said Zajac. “He’s a better kid. A very smart boy. He works really hard on it and cares about it. He put a lot of good things on tape today and we look forward to seeing him play for a championship.”
Also for the Spartans, Justin Knaack carried 19 times for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Vokes caught seven passes for 92 yards, including his three touchdowns.
Kluender threw for 314 yards and two points left with three interceptions. Woodbury Central turned it over a total of four times to go 11-1 in their third semifinal appearance in four seasons.
“I’m absolutely proud of them and what they have achieved this year,” said Bremer. “No one thought we were going to come back and to be here three years out of four I think is a hell of an achievement.”
Meanwhile, the Grundy Center prepares for its fourth consecutive finals trip.
“Teamwide, districtwide, communitywide, our kids have worked so hard for their families, for themselves and for their teammates,” Zajac said. “It would be great to get one, but we need to have a great prep week.”
Woodbury Central (11-1) 0 7 7 6 — 20
Grundy Center (12-0) 7 21 14 7-49
GC: Tiernan Vokes 6 Pass by Colin Gordon (Gordon Kick)
WM: Will DeStigter 26 Pass by Drew Kluender (Zack Butler Kick)
GC: Justin Knaack 8 run (Gordon kick)
GC: Vokes 16 Pass from Gordon (Gordon Kick)
GC: Tate Jirovsky 8 pass from Gordon (kick from Gordon)
GC: Justin Knaack 7 run (Gordon kick)
GC: Vokes 21 Pass from Gordon (Gordon Kick)
WM: DeStigter 70s pass from Kluender (butler kick)
WC: Kyan Schultzen 40 Interception Return (Kick Failed)
GC: Clay Saak 3 Pass by Gordon (Kick by Gordon)
RUSHING: WC, Max McGill 18-67, Drew Kluender 4-14. GC, Justin Knaack 19-112, Clay Saak 8-48, Colin Gordon 8-15, Tanner Laube 1-9.
PASSING: WC, Drew Kluender 20-41-3, 314 yards, 2 TDs. GC, Colin Gordon 16-23-1, 248 yards, 5 TDs.
OBTAINED: WC, Will DeStigter 8-149, Zack Butler 3-87, Eric McGill 4-49, Kyan Schultzen 4-26. GC, Tiernan Vokes 7-92, Tate Jirovsky 2-74, Ben Wegmann 3-58, Tanner Laube 2-19.