Spartan defense can’t withstand No. 8 Eagles

GRUNDY CENTER – Bryce Flater and the Spartan offense did what needed to be done Friday night. Unfortunate for the Grundy Center football team, the Eagles did what needed to be done a little better.

West Hancock ran for 374 yards as a team, never attempting a pass on the night, to counter Flater’s 248 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.

The No. 8 Eagles outdueled the Spartans in a ground battle to come away with the 44-26 victory in Class A District 3 play.

“Collectively, defensively, we just got whipped up front tonight,” Grundy Center coach Brent Thoren said. “There’s just no other two ways to put it. The other reality is we don’t have a lot of depth right now. We got a lot of guys going both ways a lot of minutes. Guys are getting tired. We just don’t have the luxury of putting in a lot of guys in there.”

Flater’s rushing performance put him past the 1,000-yard plateau for the season.

West Hancock’s (4-1, 3-0) offensive game plan was a simple one. Either Dylan Eckels, Colton Francis or Jordan Weiland was going to carry the football. The trio were the only Eagles to touch the ball all night long. The Eagles went up 14-0 in the first quarter when Eckels ran for a 15-yard touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, West Hancock kicked the ball short to keep it out of the hands of Flater. A Grundy Center (3-2, 2-1) up-man botched the kickoff, and the Eagles recovered, setting up a Francis 3-yard TD run.

The Eagles built a three-touchdown lead before the Spartans would get on the board. Quarterback Jake Bangasser found Braidan Buhrow for a 14-yard pass to get the ball close to midfield. A roughing the passer penalty on the Eagles tacked on an additional 15 yards, and it set up a Flater 37-yard touchdown run on the next play.

A Weiland 48-yard touchdown run on the second play of the third quarter increased West Hancock’s lead to 28-6 less than minute into the second half. It was the start of teams exchanging touchdown drives. Flater ran for an 11-yard score on the next drive, only for Francis to score from 5 yards out on the following possession.

“The problem was we couldn’t stop them,” Thoren said. “We were trading touchdowns, and then we’d stall out because of a penalty. I don’t think it was anything offensively we were not doing.

“Problem was both teams were running the ball so darn much, running the clock out. Not enough time to get a sustained drive going.”

After the Spartans turned the ball over on downs, Grundy Center was able to cash in on the only turnover of the night. Eckels fumbled the center-quarterback exchange, and the Spartans fell on it to be in business as the third quarter drew to a close. Flater again would score, this time from 2 yards out, but Eckels broke off a 50-yard scoring run to get the points back less than 90 seconds later.

“We just couldn’t stop the darn big play from them,” Thoren said. “We’d get down there, we’d score. Next thing you know they’re running for a 40-yard touchdown. We just couldn’t make them punt the darn ball.

“Our offense played really well, and Bryce played hard. We just had to get a couple stops on defense. That was the difference, we just couldn’t get off the field.”

Grundy Center’s senior tailback scored a 10-yard touchdown in the middle of the final quarter, but it was too little too late for the Spartans. Eckels finished the night with 130 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Francis ran for 128 yards and three scores, and Weiland added 116 yards and a score.

Grundy Center will be tested once again right away this coming Friday. The Spartans will travel to take on Class A No. 1 Saint Ansgar. Grundy Center will face a Saints team that sports a perfect 5-0 record after topping West Fork 41-21.