Grundy Center defense holds strong again, shuts out Pirates

Cole Richtsmeier (59) holds up a recovered fumble, one of several turnovers forced by the Grundy Center defense on Friday against Hudson. (Jake Ryder photo)
Jake Ryder

GRUNDY CENTER – Defense continues to be Grundy Center football's best foot forward.

The Spartans stifled Hudson in a 35-0 win for homecoming at Spartan Stadium.

Grundy Center improves to 3-1 overall and 2-0 in Class A District 3, and will head to AGWSR (2-2, 1-2) next week.

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Friday's win was the team's second-consecutive shutout, matching last week's 35-0 final score at Wapsie Valley.

"This means a lot, especially the way that we did it," said Grundy Center center Brayden Sawyer, who was also crowned Grundy's homecoming king earlier this week. "The coaches just get us ready for this game, we played fast and physical, and things just went our way."

The 13-10 loss to Dike-New Hartford is getting farther in the rearview as the Spartans continue to assert control of their district destiny.

"We had mixed emotions about the Dike game with the [jump-ball] pass at the end," Zinkula said. "And then to just come back and beat Wapsie was a big one, and with this, we'll just keep rolling."

The Spartans started the scoring on a screen pass from Logan Knaack to Dayne Zinkula for an 11-yard score on the opening drive of the game.

Hudson was able to run plenty of plays in Grundy Center territory in the first quarter, but the Spartan defense was able to hold.

"They had us reeling a bit with the way they were calling their offense, some of that check-with-the-sideline stuff," Grundy Center head coach Travis Zajac said. "And offensively save for that first series, we weren't able to score."

The Spartans got the breakthrough they were looking for when Knaack intercepted Hudson and ran back a 40-yard return to set up Grundy for goal-to-go from the Hudson 5-yard line.

Three plays later, Sloan Klar and Bryce Greiner opened up a big hole for Cole Lehr to waltz through for a 5-yard touchdown and a 14-0 Spartan lead with 4:32 left to halftime after Colin Gordon's point-after kick.

"We're getting better every week," Sawyer said of his teammates on the line. "Our line coach Scott Muller and Gary Knaack get us ready for each week and we're just getting better. … Just getting used to being out here every time."

On Hudson's next drive, a Cole Richtsmeier sack and Colin Gordon's pressure on the Hudson punter allowed for the Spartans to start in Pirate territory with a chance to score before halftime.

With third-and-six on Hudson's 26-yard line, Knaack rolled to his left and threw a wobbly off-balance pass that Dexter Whitehill was able to reel in and take to the end zone, with Gordon providing a key block of a Hudson defender patrolling the goal line. Gordon kicked the PAT and made the score 21-0 before halftime.

Hudson punted on their first possession of the second half and, with a big return from Knaack plus a flag for a late-hit on the Pirates, the Spartans took advantage of short field again with Zinkula scoring from 12 yards out, pushing the lead to 28-0 with 9:44 left in the third.

"It's been a great rotation between Cole and I," Zinkula said. "Cole's better at reading [defenses] and it's why he usually makes bigger plays. Zajac always gets after me because I don't read stuff as much and I just try running people over, which I've gotten better at that."

Richtsmeier jumped on a Hudson fumble caused by Zinkula on the Pirates' next possession, but Knaack was intercepted on a 2nd-down pass on the run.

It was a rare major mistake for the Spartan offense on Friday, but one that Zajac hopes to make even more rare.

"Logan and I will talk about that one on film quite a bit," Zajac said. "We're continuing to grow and evolve offensively, and we did some things better this week that we didn't do last week. … But we need to eliminate the turnovers from our game because they're going to come back to bite us, similar to how they did in Week 2 [against Dike-New Hartford]."

This one didn't hurt the Spartans much, as the Pirates got one first down before throwing the ball to Knaack again for another interception for the senior.

Knaack and Zinkula connected for another touchdown, this one the more traditional forward pass from 19 yards out as Knaack made a leaping throw to Zinkula to put the finishing touches on a dominant win.

"[Defensive Coordinator] Coach Conger should get a lot of credit," Zinkula said. "I don't know if he'll take it, but it's easier to play when you know what the other team is going to do exactly. He's been great."

Zajac added kudos for his entire defensive staff, including Gary Knaack, Jeff Dole and Nick Betts.

"Those four guys communicate well with our kids," Zajac said. "And our players did another awesome job tonight."

Friday's game in Ackley will be the first meeting between the two teams since 2015, when Grundy beat AGWSR 21-7, which at the time ended a three-game losing streak against the Cougars.

"They'll be excited to play us back in 11-man," Zajac said. "But it's a homecoming win and I'm proud of our kids and coaches to maintain focus throughout the week and get it done in front of our home crowd."


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