Spartans sack their way back to the Dome

T-R PHOTO BY JAKE RYDER - Dike-New Hartford quarterback Colin Meester (12) is sacked by Grundy Center’s Tiernan Vokes, center, as Pete Lebo pursues the play during the Spartans’ 40-0 shellacking of the Wolverines in Friday’s Class 1A state football quarterfinals in Grundy Center. The Spartans advance to the state semifinals at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls for the fifth-consecutive season.

GRUNDY CENTER — If there was any remaining doubt about Grundy Center football’s capabilities after moving up a class, Friday’s victory can provide some clarity.

A fired-up Spartans squad throttled Dike-New Hartford, 40-0, to blast their way back to the UNI-Dome and the 1A state semifinals with a one-sided victory at Spartan Stadium.

Top-ranked Grundy Center (11-0) will take on Waterloo Columbus (9-2) at 10 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 10. The Spartans defeated the Sailors in district play, 21-14, on Sept. 21.

For the Spartans, it’s a fifth-consecutive appearance in the state semifinals and a first since moving up from Class A, where they won last year’s state title.

After squeaking by D-NH, 7-6, in the first week of the season, it was also a major statement from a Spartan team that has struggled at times this season to get going right away in games.

T-R PHOTO BY JAKE RYDER - Grundy Center head coach Travis Zajac, left, addresses his team after Friday’s 40-0 victory over Dike-New Hartford in the Class 1A state football quarterfinals.

“We’ve come out slow at times this year and then closed out teams in the third or fourth quarter, but we knew we had to come out swinging if we wanted to win this game, and we did,” said Spartan senior Trent Cakerice, a preferred walk-on commit for Iowa. “It’s about damn time we played a game like that.”

Justin Knaack punched in a 2-yard score less than four minutes in on Grundy Center’s opening drive. A Tiernan Vokes sack forced a D-NH punt, which led to a 19-play, 78-yard Spartan drive that took almost 10 minutes off the clock and ended with Vokes dragging his feet in the back of the end zone on a 3-yard pass from Colin Gordon.

D-NH fumbled on its next offensive play from scrimmage and Gordon danced in for a 4-yard run to make it 21-0. The next Wolverine play resulted in a Tate Jirovsky interception, and while the Spartans didn’t capitalize on that one, the hosts enjoyed a commanding halftime lead.

Knaack rushed 18 times for 90 yards and two touchdowns. Gordon completed 12-of-17 passes for 152 yards and two scores, and had two more scores on the ground.

“It’s all due to the line, they did a great job,” Knaack said. “They’re the reason for my success. … We knew they were going to play tough and we fed off the excitement around this game, and we were just ready to play.”

T-R PHOTO BY JAKE RYDER - Grundy Center’s Justin Knaack, left, celebrates with Tate Jirovsky (15) after rushing for a touchdown against Dike-New Hartford during Friday’s state football quarterfinal game in Grundy Center.

Pete Lebo stuffed a D-NH punt to start the second half, and two plays later Gordon lofted a picture-perfect pass to Judd Jirovsky for a 45-yard strike.

The Wolverines turned the ball over twice more in the 2nd half with a Justin Knaack interception and a Tate Jirovsky fumble recovery on a missed fair catch, the latter of which the Spartans cashed in with Gordon’s second touchdown run. Knaack added his second ground score to polish off a complete performance from the Spartans.

“I have nothing but good things to say about [D-NH head coach] Don Betts and the organization he runs up there,” Grundy Center head coach Travis Zajac said. “He’s a class act as a man and runs a class act football program, and to beat them the way we did tonight, I’m really proud of our program.

“We were disappointed in how we played offensively in week one, and we had an outstanding offensive effort tonight.”

The Grundy Center seniors were determined to complete a rare feat by going undefeated on their home field all throughout their high school career.

T-R PHOTO BY JAKE RYDER - Grundy Center receiver Tate Jirovsky (15), escapes a Dike-New Hartford defender after making a catch against the Wolverines on Friday night in Grundy Center.

“This team has brought me a lot of happiness,” Cakerice said, tears forming in his eyes. “It’s changed my life.”

Zajac added, “They were really young when we started this thing in 2019 in eighth grade, and now they’re in a place where they’ve pushed the standard even higher. They’re going to be outstanding husbands and fathers and I couldn’t be any prouder.”

State Football Playoffs


Thursday’s Scores


Bedford 36, Lenox 24

Bishop Garrigan 26, CAM, Anita 16

Gladbrook-Reinbeck 32, Clarksville 20

Winfield-Mount Union 34, Don Bosco 29

Friday’s Scores


Southeast Polk 21, Cedar Falls 20

Ankeny 14, Dowling Catholic 7

West Des Moines Valley 20, Waukee 7

Ankeny Centennial 41, Bettendorf 14


Western Dubuque 21, North Scott 7

Council Bluffs Lewis Central 32, ADM 21

Bondurant-Farrar 31, Glenwood 21

North Polk 17, Cedar Rapids Xavier 14


Creston 50, Webster City 27

Solon 36, West Delaware 35

Williamsburg 38, Mount Vernon 35

Sioux City Heelan 27, Sioux Center 26, 3OT


CLGLR 48, Carroll Kuemper Catholic 27

Van Meter 31, PCM 21

Spirit Lake 20, West Lyon 19

Monticello 34, Mediapolis 28


Grundy Center 40, Dike-New Hartford 0

Underwood 43, OABCIG 8

W’loo Columbus 35, Sumner-Fred’burg 14

MFL MarMac 22, Iowa City Regina 7


East Buchanan 30, St. Ansgar 16

Woodbury Central 35, Logan-Magnolia 0

West Hancock 44, Wapsie Valley 22

Madrid 21, ACGC 14


At UNI-Dome, Cedar Falls

Wednesday, Nov. 8


Algona Bishop Garrigan (10-1) vs. Winfield-Mt. Union (11-0), 10 a.m.

Gladbrook-Reinbeck (10-1) vs. Bedford (11-0), 1 p.m.

Thursday, Nov. 9


Madrid (11-0) vs. West Hancock (10-1), 10 a.m.

East Buchanan (9-2) vs. Woodbury Central (11-0), 1 p.m.


North Polk (9-2) vs. Lewis Central (9-2), 4 p.m.

Bondurant-Farrar (9-2) vs. Western Dubuque (10-1), 7 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 10


Waterloo Columbus (9-2) vs. Grundy Center (11-0), 10 a.m.

MFL MarMac (10-1) vs. Underwood (10-1), 1 p.m.


West Des Moines Valley (6-5) vs. Southeast Polk (11-0), 4 p.m.

Ankeny Centennial (7-4) vs. Ankeny (8-3), 7 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 11


Monticello (10-1) vs. Van Meter (11-0), 10 a.m.

Spirit Lake (10-1) vs. Central Lyon/George-Little Rock (11-0), 1 p.m.


Sioux City Bishop Heelan (10-1) vs. Creston (11-0), 4 p.m.

Williamsburg (10-1) vs. Solon (10-1), 7 p.m.


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