Grundy Center defense stifles Warriors in district opener

Grundy Center's Ben Wegmann (3) signals Spartan ball after recovering a Wapsie Valley fumble in the first half of the Spartans' 20-7 win at Spartan Stadium on Friday. (Jake Ryder photo)
Jake Ryder
The Grundy Register

GRUNDY CENTER – Grundy Center football’s defense consistently answered the call on Friday night to stifle a dangerous Wapsie Valley team, the Spartans 20-7 winners in the Class A District 3 opener at Spartan Stadium.

The Spartans improved to 3-0 overall. Wapsie fell to 1-2 and 1-1 in the district, coming off a 41-6 thrashing of Nashua-Plainfield in Fairbank last week.

“Wapsie Valley’s got a good quarterback, two or three kids that can carry the ball out of the backfield, a 6-6 tight end and two receivers that can fly,” Grundy Center head coach Travis Zajac said. “To hold that to seven points, is a fantastic effort on defense.”

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On the opening drive of the game, the Spartans completed a near six-minute drive with a 17-yard pass from Colin Gordon to Tate Jirovsky, with Gordon scrambling to get Jirovsky open before lobbing it in.

In the second quarter, Gordon picked off Wapsie Valley quarterback Casey O’Donnell and returned it to the Warrior 24-yard line. Five plays later, Gordon dove in for a one-yard touchdown and a 13-0 Spartan lead with 5:12 left to halftime.

The Spartan defense got one last stop before halftime but a muffed punt return and a bad snap right before halftime kept Grundy Center from taking a shot at the end zone to extend its lead.

“The kids were a little dissatisfied,” Zajac said of the halftime locker room vibe. “We left some points on the field, and made a couple untimely mistakes in critical situations. But to go into halftime with a two-score lead, we felt good.”

Penalty flags flew all over the field for both sides in the 2nd half, but few were more beneficial to the visitors than a penalty assessed before the 2nd half even started, with Grundy Center deemed to be too late arriving to the field to start the second half and penalized 15 yards on the opening kickoff, kicking away to the Warriors from the 25 instead of the 40.

Starting from their own 38, a long Wapsie run was followed two plays later by a personal foul on the Spartans which set up the Warriors from the GC 17-yard line. After that penalty, another Wapsie rush got the Warriors to the Spartan two, and even after three false-start penalties backed the Warriors to that 17-yard line, Casey O’Donnell found Andrew Westpfahl for a 17-yard heave and Braden Knight’s kick made it 13-7 Spartans with 10:36 left in the third quarter.

“I feel like we gifted them those points,” Zajac said. “It was unfortunate that we gave up that score.”

The Spartans struggled on their next drive, hampered by holding calls and fumbling the punt attempt on fourth down, setting up Wapsie in Spartan territory again at the 36.

This time, the Warriors were flagged for two more false starts and then a hold on an incomplete fourth-down pass for a four-and-out and another Spartan stop.

Another lost fumble, this time in Warrior territory, ended up in not much for the visitors as the S.H.I.E.L.D.-bearers defense held once more.

At the start of the fourth quarter, the Spartan offense finished off a 41-yard drive with a 4-yard Gordon TD score on a draw play up a huge hole in the Warrior defense and gave the Spartans a 20-7 lead with 10:48 left. The drive included a third-down catch by Austin Betts to set up goal-to-go.

In that fourth quarter, the Spartan defense showed up, again and again, and clinched it with a highlight-reel diving interception from Ben Wegmann on Wapsie’s last stand, putting the Spartans in victory formation.

Though Zajac described the second half as one that moved in “fits and starts,” he did see improvement from the offensive unit.

“I was really proud of how we started the game, and then converted that interception into a touchdown in the second quarter,” Zajac said. “Second half felt like we got things rolling and then there were some untimely penalties that shot us in the foot. But we were better than we were last week against D-NH and we’ll continue to get better.”

Hudson is 2-1 overall and 1-1 in district play with a 17-0 shut out of North Tama on Friday night.

“We’ll enjoy this win tonight,” Zajac said. “And we’ll be ready to go over there and play. A very close rival with us, I know they’ll play hard and I’d hope for nothing less from our guys, too.”



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