DOM3: Spartans dispatch rival Redhawks for 3rd-straight UNI-Dome trip

Cole Richtsmeier (59) celebrates with his Grundy Center teammates after Friday's state quarterfinal win at home vs. North Tama. (Jake Ryder photo)
Jake Ryder

GRUNDY CENTER – Cole Richtsmeier could see it coming.

The Spartan senior lineman was part of a group trying to contain North Tama's double-pass play in the first half of Friday's Class A quarterfinal in Grundy Center.

Redhawk senior Aiden Zook, who had received the first pass from quarterback Gabe Kopriva, gave away his next target.

"He was facing forward, then he turned his hips and looked right at me," said Richtsmeier, "and I knew it was coming back my way."

Richtsmeier was there to jump in front of Zook's throw, grabbing the interception and returning it for a game-changing touchdown in Grundy Center's eventual 28-7 win over the Redhawks at Spartan Stadium.

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The Spartans advance to Thursday's semifinal round and will play Woodbury Central (10-1) at 1 p.m. in the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. It's Grundy Center's third-consecutive appearance in the semis, and the third time for many of the seniors that were regular contributors on the two state runner-up teams from previous seasons.

"Us seniors are really excited to be back again," Richtsmeier said.

Grundy Center head coach Travis Zajac noted that it's just that much more special for someone like Richtsmeier, who only had minimal playing time on special teams last season.

"He would've probably been the first to tell you he wasn't sure it was going to happen his senior year," Zajac added, "but the kid worked really hard in the offseason. I'm proud of what he's done in the classroom and he's really just turned things around."

 Richtsmeier's interception couldn't have come at a better time. The Spartans had just punted after giving up the game-tying touchdown near the end of the first quarter.

The Redhawks were driving with a couple first downs before a Brayden Sawyer tackle for loss and penalty backed North Tama up to 3rd-and-22 from the NT 36; North Tama dipped into the diverse offensive playbook for the double pass and Richtsmeier made the play to turn the tide back toward the S.H.I.E.L.D. bearers.

North Tama punted on its next drive, and the Spartans scored again on an 18-yard Logan Knaack run to give Grundy Center a 20-7 halftime lead.

"We just had to make them earn it," Grundy Center's Brayden Sawyer said. "We knew they were going to come out with some tricky plays, but we saw it coming and we handled it."

Knaack added a 23-yard touchdown pass to Tate Jirovsky to start the scoring in the first quarter. Dayne Zinkula punched in a short run to kick off the fourth quarter and added a 2-point run to push the Spartans ahead three scores.

"We spread the ball around more tonight," Knaack said. "And then our linemen were doing really well with that three front they handled it, they sorted it out, and they really just made holes, made plays and kept grinding."

Dexter Whitehill added an interception and Clay Saak recovered a fumble forced by Richtsmeier to further fluster the Redhawk offense.

"We didn't send much off the edge in the first half, then we started sending more in the second half," said Saak, a sophomore, "and it worked out nicely."

Zajac said having underclassmen like Saak contribute is part of the Class A football experience, and of recent Grundy Center football history.

"Two years ago we had Dayne, Logan and Cole [Lehr] stepping up as sophomores, last year we had Austin Betts and Patrick Brown [III]," Zajac said. "Now this year, we've got Clay Saak, Tate Jirovsky, Colin Gordon and several others. They're talented kids that care, that work hard, and they're outstanding young men."

In the last three years, Grundy Center has seen several talented and dedicated senior groups carry the shield.

This year's senior group carries the load of expectations from the ones that came before it, though.

"They heard the naysayers after that senior group we lost last year," Zajac said. "'You guys probably won't be as good,' and on and on and on. And they just said to heck with that. We're going to do what we do. … It's been an absolute joy to go to practice every day, and you don't approach it as work. It's fun.

"They're an outstanding group of young men, and I'm really proud to be their coach."

Once more, to the Dome. The Spartans have felt the highs and lows that can come next.

"We just have to keep our heads on straight," Knaack said. "It's the last four teams. They're all good. We can't overlook anybody. We've just got to go in, compete, and hopefully come out with a win."


The Grundy Register

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