Spartans clinch district title, defeat BCLUW

Grundy Center's Tanner Laube dives toward the pylon at the end zone as BCLUW's Tyler Bracy tries to make the tackle during Friday's game in Grundy Center. Laube scored one of his two touchdowns tonight on this play. (Jake Ryder photo)
Jake Ryder
The Grundy Register

GRUNDY CENTER – Thinking about this year’s Grundy Center football senior group puts a lump in Travis Zajac’s throat.

The Spartan head coach inherited these seniors as freshmen when he came to town in early 2019 as a Dubuque-area coach with, as far as most Grundy Center faithful knew at the time, a family, a teaching job and an acronym.

Zajac would be the first to note he didn’t do it alone, that he and his coaching staff had an established foundation of Spartan tradition to build on. Still, those Spartan S.H.I.E.L.D.-bearers that were freshmen in the fall of 2019 are now three-time district champions. Grundy Center clinched the 2022 title with a 56-8 win over BCLUW at Spartan Stadium on Friday night.

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Grundy Center seniors Austin Betts, Ben Wegmann, Stuart Whitehill, Ethan Aswegan, Patrick Brown III and Cooper Hoy are part of a culture now at Grundy Center where district titles are a stop in the journey, not the destination.

“It’s a road sign along the way,” Zajac said. “And with these seniors, all the football they’ve been around, all the quality people they’ve been associated with in our program, our school, our community - they’re a testament to what we’re doing here in Grundy Center. … Special group of kids, special families, and I’m really thankful and grateful to have them.”

Brody Zinkula’s 82-yard return of the opening kickoff for a Grundy Center touchdown 10 seconds into the game set the tone for the Spartans.

“That was awesome,” Wegmann said. “There’s energy on both sidelines to start the game and that just gave us the momentum going forward. A big time for the team to get going and it just went from there.”

After a quick three-and-out for the Comets, Tanner Laube finished off the Spartans’ first traditional touchdown drive of the day, diving for the pylon on a 10-yard scoring run and a 14-0 Spartan lead less than halfway through the first quarter.

Another three-and-out for the Spartan defense set up a 34-yard touchdown run for Dylan Knaack. Another defensive stop, and Colin Gordon finished a five-play drive for a 28-0 lead with 30 seconds left in the first.

Grundy Center led 42-0 at halftime. Tanner Laube and Colin Gordon each finished with two touchdowns scored for the Spartans on Friday to lead a diverse offensive onslaught.

Clay Saak, Dylan Knaack and Justin Knaack each added a rushing touchdown on the ground.

The Spartans haven’t lost at home since Oct. 4, 2019 in a narrow loss to North Tama. In the 18 wins in a row at home since that game, Grundy Center has outscored opponents by an average of 30 points per game.

“I think this just proves Grundy Center football is here to stay,” Whitehill said. “We’re here to play good football, and we’ve got a great culture, building the whole team up at every level.”

The Spartans played shorthanded with Brown III and Betts among those not dressed to play on Friday - but Grundy seemed no worse for wear.

“It’s next man up mentality,” Whitehil said. “We’re all ready to go at all times. You work as a team and we all support each other. That helps the next man in know that they’re going to be alright. And we’ve got amazing coaches that help us prepare every week, for every game.”

Zajac said he expects to have a handful of guys back in action next week and hopes to be closer to full strength in time for the postseason.

Defensively, Justin Knaack had 4.5 total tackles for the Spartans, including two tackles for a loss. Tiernan Vokes added four stops. The Spartans also picked off BCLUW three times, an interception each for Zinkula, Dylan Knaack and Laube.

BCLUW got on the board late in the third quarter on a deep ball from Walker Ashton to Tyler Bracy for an 83-yard pass play for six.

“[The Spartans] came out strong and ready to go,” BCLUW head coach Jeff Pikna said. “When it comes to teams like that that have been doing it the right way forever, we have nothing but respect for those guys. To be honest with you, we’re just not at that level yet.”

The Comets will face Wapsie Valley next week needing an upset victory over the Warriors, in tandem with a Hudson loss against Nashua-Plainfield, to keep playoff hopes alive.

In a sense, Grundy Center and BCLUW’s football teams are teams at different points on the same tracks, with the Comets in the middle of a significant turnaround of a season.

“My love, and my passion for these guys hasn’t gone down one bit,” Pikna said. “This score, in the journey that we’re on, means nothing - we’re about trying to build a culture that will be here for 10, 20, 30 years, and you don’t get to that place without having games like this. Sometimes when you’re having a successful season, you get put back into your place and then you know there’s more work yet, that we haven’t really gotten where we need to be.”

One regular season game remains - for the Spartans, it’s a road trip to North Tama, the last-place team in the district but one not to be taken lightly.

“We gotta take every game seriously, treat them all the same way,” Wegmann said. “That’s a big game over at their place.”

GC stats

Rushing–Clay Saak 8-60, TD; Colin Gordon 3-37, 2 TD; Dylan Knaack 1-34, TD; Justin Knaack 10-34, TD; Brody Zinkula 12-26; Tanner Laube 1-10, TD; Ben Wegmann 2-9.

Passing–Gordon 6-7-0, 112 yards, TD.

Receiving–Laube 1-40, TD; Wegmann 2-27; Tiernan Vokes 1-23; D. Knaack 1-13; Tate Jirovsky 1-9.

Tackles (solo-total)–Justin Knaack 3-4.5; Tiernan Vokes 3-4; Clay Saak 2-4; Stuart Whitehill 1-3; Brody Zinkula 1-2.5; Ben Wegmann 0-1; Tate Jirovsky 1-1; Klayton Freed 1-1; Keon VanHorn 1-1; Cooper Hoy 0-1; Ethan Aswegan 0-0.5; Trent Cakerice 0-0.5. TFL–J. Knaack 2, Vokes, VanHorn 1. INT–Zinkula, D. Knaack, Laube.



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