Grundy Center defends state title by blanking MFL MarMac

T-R PHOTO BY JAKE RYDER - Grundy Center seniors Kasey Seitz (67), Dylan Knaack (21), Justin Knaack (23) and Harry Brekunitch, far right, celebrate with the Class 1A state football championship trophy following Thursday’s 42-0 victory over MFL MarMac at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls. The win was the 26th in a row for the Spartans, who won back-to-back state titles after taking last year’s Class A crown.

CEDAR FALLS — In a dominant three-week stretch for Grundy Center football, Thursday’s state championship game was the Spartans’ best.

Another undefeated season is in the books for Grundy Center, steamrolling MFL MarMac 42-0 in the Class 1A championship game for the program’s 26th-consecutive win and the fifth state title in school history.

Grundy Center is one of three teams in Iowa history to win back-to-back titles after moving up a class. The Spartans are also only the second team in history to win back-to-back state championship games with shutouts — Bettendorf accomplished the feat in 1991 and 1992.

The Spartans vanquished West Hancock last year, 27-0, in the Class A title game.

“Not a lot of people get to do this,” Grundy Center senior quarterback Colin Gordon said. “And the way we did it, too, shutouts both years, it’s just incredible.”

T-R PHOTO BY JAKE RYDER - Grundy Center senior wide receiver Tate Jirovsky, right, celebrates his 26-yard touchdown reception with his younger brother Judd Jirovsky (12) during the second quarter of Thursday’s Class 1A state football championship game.

It started with a forgettable three-and-out on Grundy Center’s opening possession.

Gordon immediately flipped the script on defense, recovering a fumble forced by Tanner Laube on MFL’s first play from scrimmage.

“That was a momentum shift,” Grundy Center lineman Trent Cakerice said. “It was like ‘OK, we need to get it going after that first drive.'”

Gordon dove in three plays later for a 7-0 lead less than three minutes in, and the Spartans scored on three of their next four drives, with a Gordon touchdown rush, Brody Zinkula running score and a Tate Jirovsky touchdown reception from Gordon.

Gordon was 17-of-25 passing for 242 yards with two touchdowns and an interception and rushed for two more scores. Justin Knaack ran 10 times for 64 yards and Brody Zinkula added eight totes for 43 yards, each scoring once.

T-R PHOTO BY JAKE RYDER - Grundy Center sophomore wide receiver Judd Jirovsky (12) reels in a 37-yard reception over MFL MarMac defender Parker Kuehl (9) down to the Bulldogs’ 1-yard-line, setting up a Brody Zinkula touchdown run on the next play for a 20-0 Grundy Center lead during the second quarter.

In the receiving game, Knaack and his twin brother Dylan each had four catches for 39 yards — and Tate Jirovsky hauled in 3 catches for 53 yards and a score.

“Once we got rolling, it’s crazy to say but it felt like we were almost impossible to beat,” Gordon said.

There’s simply too much talent on the outside for opposing teams to keep up, and increased physicality on the line of scrimmage and defensively have spurred a three-week stretch where Grundy Center outscored their opponents by a combined 124-7 with two shutouts.

“I don’t know how you defend it, honestly,” Grundy Center head coach Travis Zajac said. “It’s really, really good and you’re being stressed on the perimeter at all times.”

Slowing down a bruising MFL MarMac running game was no easy feat.

T-R PHOTO BY JAKE RYDER - Grundy Center junior wide receiver Tiernan Vokes (18) fends off MFL MarMac defender Quinn McGeough (21) with a stiffarm during Thursday’s state football championship game in Cedar Falls.

The Bulldogs plowed through Underwood in the semifinals, 41-28, with 408 yards of rushing.

On Thursday, they managed just 109 yards.

“Our coaches gave us a great plan,” Spartan junior Brody Zinkula said. “We just knew we had to bring hats to the ball. They’re hard runners and we had to go in there with the mindset to tackle them.”

Zajac added: “They just ran roughshod over [Underwood] for two-and-a-half quarters, … it was going to take a little extra effort from our kids today to get their kids to the ground, and they did that. And then it just comes down to executing your assignment.”

Gordon tossed a forward pass to Justin Knaack for a 9-yard score late in the third quarter, activating the continuous clock with a two-point pass to Tiernan Vokes that ran through the fourth quarter as the Spartans celebrated.

One senior in particular was given the final honors. Clay Saak, a top contributor to last year’s state title team, missed this season with a knee injury.

That is until Thursday, suiting up for one last game, and joining the Spartans in victory formation.

After taking the snap, Gordon flipped the ball back to Saak, who took a knee to end the game.

“Pitching back to him, that wasn’t part of the plan, I think it was ad-libbed in the huddle,” Zajac said with a smile. “But he was a fantastic, phenomenal player for us, and the legacy he leaves is that he did everything the right way, and worked incredibly hard, and I’m glad he was able to be on the field for that last play.”

It’s been a grind to do what Grundy Center did once, let alone twice. Let alone five times making an appearance in the state championship game.

The young Spartans are already thinking about that next one.

“We can celebrate for a couple weeks, but we gotta get back in the weight room this offseason,” Zinkula said.

For now, it’s a time to reflect on a stunning run by the Spartans.

“They were wide-eyed freshmen when we lost to Regina in 2020,” Zajac said. “You never quite know what you’ll get, but these kids were our frontrunners earning the Hatchell Cup as far as GPA is concerned. They don’t miss school, they do their work, they’re respectful. When you have good people, you have a chance to be a good team.”

The sacrifice and hard work goes beyond the players, but to all members of the Spartan community who have pitched in, from bus drivers to meal preppers to spouses and everyone in between.

“Shannon, my spouse, she’s a saint. A hospice nurse, a mama, and she’s married to a head football coach,” Zajac said. “Not an easy bargain when your seasons go to the week before Thanksgiving consistently. She’s just always there and I love her to death.

“We have a great community and we just want to play with pride for them and to represent them with class on the biggest stage.”

State Football Finals

At UNI-Dome, Cedar Falls

Thursday, Nov. 16


Bishop Garrigan, Algona 39, Bedford 30


West Hancock 30, Woodbury Central 28


Grundy Center 42, MFL MarMac 0


Lewis Central 40, Western Dubuque 21

Friday, Nov. 17


Van Meter (12-0) vs. Central Lyon/George-Little Rock (12-0), 10 a.m.


Sioux City Bishop Heelan (11-1) vs. Williamsburg (11-1), 1 p.m.


Southeast Polk (12-0) vs. Ankeny (9-3), 7 p.m.

Grundy Center 42, MFL MarMac 0

Score by Quarters

MFL MarMac 0 0 0 0 — 0

Grundy Center 13 14 8 7 — 42

Scoring Summary

First Quarter

GC — Colin Gordon 1 run (Gordon kick), 9:01.

GC — Gordon 3 run (kick failed), 1:53.

Second Quarter

GC — Brody Zinkula 1 run (Gordon kick), 10:12.

GC — Tate Jirovsky 26 pass from Gordon (Gordon kick), 3:31.

Third Quarter

GC — Justin Knaack 9 pass from Gordon (Tiernan Vokes pass from Gordon), 1:59.

Fourth Quarter

GC — Knaack 6 run (Gordon kick), 7:05.



First downs 6 16

Rushes-yards 35-109 27-85

Passing yards 18 242

Comp-Att-Int 2-10-0 17-25-1

Total Offense 127 327

Fumbles-lost 3-1 1-0

Penalties-yards 4-17 4-35

Time of Poss. 27:44 20:16


RUSHING — MFL: Bryce Radloff 5-40, Carter Blietz-Bentien 13-38, Quinn McGeough 14-35, Carter Stoddard 2-3, Elias Hatt 1-(minus-7); GC: J. Knaack 10-64, Zinkula 8-43, Gordon 7-(minus-8), Team 2-(minus-14).

PASSING — MFL: Hatt 1-5-9-0, Blietz-Bentien 1-5-9-0; GC: Gordon 17-25-242-1.

RECEIVING — MFL: Brandon Christofferson 1-9, McGeough 1-9; GC: T. Jirovsky 3-53, Judd Jirovsky 2-51, Vokes 3-44, Dylan Knaack 4-39, J. Knaack 4-39, Tanner Laube 1-16.


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