Relentless Spartans limit Woodbury Central, return to Class A title game

Grundy Center's Tiernan Vokes (18) celebrates a touchdown during Thursday's state semifinal victory over Woodbury Central. (Jake Ryder photo)
Jake Ryder
The Grundy Register

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CEDAR FALLS – Grundy Center football gave up some big plays at times on Thursday afternoon.

But the Spartans’ physicality didn’t take a play off.

That relentless energy tipped the scales in a 49-20 victory for Grundy Center against Woodbury Central in a Class A semifinal in the UNI-Dome.

“We’ve been kind of ready for this,” said Grundy Center head coach Travis Zajac. “We know what it takes to win. And our kids were pretty excited to show up.”

For the fourth season in a row, Grundy Center (12-0) will play for a Class A state title. And for the third time in the last four years, it will be against defending champs West Hancock (12-0), with a 1 p.m. kickoff on Thursday, Nov. 17. 

“We knew Woodbury was going to be good,” said Grundy Center quarterback Colin Gordon, “but we had one goal in mind - get back to the championship game. And we did that today.”

Gordon was a big reason that goal was accomplished, completing 16-of-23 passes for 248 yards and five touchdowns on Thursday.

Outside of a fourth-quarter interception returned for a touchdown by the Wildcats, it was an impressive showing for the junior in his first appearance at quarterback in the Dome.

“There’s one throw he’d probably want to have back,” Zajac said. “But what a fantastic performance. He stepped into some pretty big shoes and hasn’t missed a beat. He’s his own man. Always got a smile on his face. I couldn’t be prouder.”

Three of Gordon’s touchdown passes went to Tiernan Vokes, finishing with seven catches for 92 yards.

The 6-foot-4, 194-pound sophomore was a handful for the Wildcat secondary, leading a balanced receiving group that consistently made plays on Thursday.

“We try to teach our kids to be selfless, which can be hard in the 21st century,” Zajac said. “But these kids are a product of really strong families and an excellent school district, and are willing to give up a little bit for others to succeed if that helps the team succeed.”

The Spartans put together 35 consecutive points across the second and third quarters that looked like it’d be more than enough to dispatch the Wildcats, starting a continuous clock.

But the Wildcats answered with a 70-yard pass from Drew Kluender to Will DeStigter to get back within four scores, and the aforementioned pick-six for Kyah Schultzen got Woodbury Central one score closer.

Woodbury recovered a Spartan fumble on the next drive, and Kluender found Eric McGill for what looked like another Wildcat touchdown, but Ben Wegmann forced a fumble that squirted into the end zone, with Justin Knaack leaping on it for a touchback.

“We were able to stop their run for the most part,” Gordon said. “So we could just sit back and play the pass mostly. We have the dudes to make the plays, and they made the plays.”

A nine-play, 80-yard drive followed, capped by a three-yard TD reception for Clay Saak with five minutes to play that finally put Woodbury Central safely out of range.

That momentum swing was felt earlier in the game as well, after Grundy Center had scored to make it 28-7 with 39 seconds left in the half.

The next Wildcat play from scrimmage was a pass from Drew Kluender to Zack Butler, who caught the ball over a falling Tanner Laube and took over for the end zone. Laube got up, chased down Butler and by a shoestring brought Butler down at the Grundy 7-yard line for a big gain, but no touchdown.

The saved touchdown was not in vain as the Spartans held strong on a goal-line stand, including a pass break-up from Laube on 3rd-goal, to preserve the 28-7 lead instead of what could have been a two score game with Woodbury Central set to receive the 2nd half kickoff on the other end of halftime.

“That goal-line stand really gave us momentum,” Vokes said. “[Laube’s] a fighter for sure. He’s not gonna give up on the play no matter what, and he had great speed to run that down.”

The Spartans surrendered 314 passing yards to the Wildcats on Thursday but intercepted Kluender three times, one each for Gordon, Wegmann and Stuart Whitehill. Grundy Center scored 21 points off those four combined turnovers, and the only turnover they didn’t score on was the last one, Wegmann’s interception, which sealed the game with 1:50 remaining.

“We did a very good job of realizing what they wanted to run and solving it,” Justin Knaack said. “We won the line of scrimmage a lot and that helped us win.”

Next Thursday, it’s the latest chapter in the battles between Grundy Center and West Hancock. The Eagles haven’t lost since a state quarterfinal loss to the Spartans in Britt in 2020 - they got revenge for that one, 19-14 winners over Grundy Center in the 2021 title game.

“It’s battle of the titans,” Gordon said. “Two of the best teams in Class A for the past four years, going out again.”

Knaack added: “I think we’re ready, I think we want it this year and I think we’re gonna take it.”






GC–Tiernan Vokes 7 pass from Colin Gordon (Gordon kick)


WC–Will DeStigter 26 pass from 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 (Gordon kick)


GC–Knaack 7 run (Gordon kick)

GC–Vokes 21 pass from Gordon (Gordon kick)

WC–DeStigter 70 pass from Kluender (Butler kick)


WC–Kyan Schultzen 40 interception return (kick missed)

GC–Clay Saak 3 pass from Gordon (Gordon kick)



WC–Max McGill 18-67; Drew Kluender 4-14.

GC–Justin Knaack 19-112, 2 TD; Clay Saak 8-48; Colin Gordon 8-15; Tanner Laube 1-9; Dylan Knaack 3-3; Team 1-(-2).



WC–Kluender 20-41-3, 314 yards, 2 TD.

GC–Gordon 16-23-1, 248 yards, 5 TD.



WC–Will DeStigter 8-149, 2 TD; Eric McGill 4-49; Kyan Schultzen 4-26; Zack Butler 3-87; Max McGill 1-3.

GC–Tiernan Vokes 7-92, 3 TD; Ben Wegmann 3-58; Tate Jirovsky 2-74, TD; Tanner Laube 2-19; Clay Saak 2-5, TD.


GC tackles (solo-total)--Brody Zinkula 6-8.5; Justin Knaack 5-5; Tanner Laube 3-4; Clay Saak 2-3.5; Ben Wegmann 2-3; Colin Gordon 3-3; Ryder Ross 3-3; Patrick Brown III 3-3; Trent Cakerice 2-3; Austin Betts 2-2; Ryker Thoren 1-2; Stuart Whitehill 0-1.5; Tate Jirovsky 1-1; Tiernan Vokes 1-1; Dylan Knaack 1-1; Keon VanHorn 0-1; Cooper Hoy 0-0.5. TFL–J. Knaack, Ross, Brown III 1; Cakerice, Thoren 0.5. INT–Wegmann, Gordon, Whitehill. FR–J. Knaack.



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