Defending champs chase Spartans from playoffs
FAIRBANK – Grundy Center’s defense held the Warriors in check momentarily.
But without any help from its offense and some costly turnovers, the uphill battle in the trenches continued to lean in Wapsie Valley’s favor.
Limited to two first downs and 28 yards of total offense, the Spartans ran out of steam in a 35-0 setback to the No. 2 ranked Warriors in a Class A second round game Monday.
The defending state champs dominated the line of scrimmage outrushing Grundy Center 358 to minus-25 and pressuring Brock Rohler into a 5-for-18, one-interception outing. The Spartans (7-4) had just four runs of positive yardage and ran just 34 plays to the Warriors’ 67.
Wapsie Valley (11-0) picked up its 25th straight win and advances to face No. 6 Gladbrook-Reinbeck (9-2) in a quarterfinal contest Friday at 7 p.m. in Gladbrook.
The Rebels defeated the Trojans 34-22 in Gladbrook Monday.
“They just wore us down up front, that’s really what it came down to,” said Grundy Center coach Brent Thoren. “We couldn’t get anything going offensively and it put our defense in some terrible spots.”
Ethan Kleitsch and Stone Kane combined for 297 yards on 44 carries and each surpassed the century mark before halftime. Kleitsch, Class A’s second-leading rusher, finished with 150 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries, while Kane bulldozed his way to 147 and a pair of scores on 21 attempts.
Grundy Center’s defense held up its end early forcing a punt on the Warriors’ opening drive, though the Spartans’ ensuing possession resulted in negative 7 yards and seven points for the home team. After Bryce Flater was stopped two yards in the backfield, Rohler mishandled a snap on second down, which Cole Mather pounced on in the end zone midway through the first.
“That touchdown got us down a little bit and we never really recovered from that,” said senior lineman Brady Hook. “That’s when they started to take off on us and get bigger chunks (of yardage). We tried out best to stop them, but we just couldn’t get it done.”
Nick Mauer’s long kickoff return started Grundy Center’s next drive at the 42 but the ball moved just one yard on three plays. The Spartans defense’ bent but didn’t break on the ensuing drive as Flater picked off a tipped pass deep in his own territory.
The offense couldn’t capitalize and Wapsie Valley’s ground game started to impose its will. A 14-yard burst from Kleitsch was followed by a 17-yard push from Kane, before Kleitsch’s 5-yard dash stretched the lead to 14-0 a minute into the second quarter.
Grundy’s fourth three-and-out of the half was followed by a 9-play, 82-yard trek from the Warriors as Kane capped the drive with a 3-yard plunge. Derek Trotter stepped in front of a Rohler pass on the ensuing drive and Kane reversed field on a 13-yard rumble to set the score at 28-0 with 1:58 left in the half.
“Our defense played outstanding and that was the story of the game,” said Warrior coach Tony Foster. “What a great job they did shutting down a really good offensive team.”
The Spartans’ defense gave their offense one more boost on the Warriors last drive of the half.
Bryce Moats picked off Ryan Miller, following an interception by Jordan Graham that was waved off by a roughing the passer penalty. The Spartans picked up their only first down of the half with an 18-yard strike from Rohler to Lane Bangasser, though the drive stalled and Rohler’s 53-yard field goal attempt had the distance but sailed wide left to close the quarter.
The Warriors opened the second half with a 12-play, 80-yard drive and Miller’s 13-yard fade to Trotter set the continuous clock in motion less than four minutes in. Miller finished 4-of-8 for 88 yards, one touchdown and two picks. Nolan Schmidt had two receptions for 41 yards, while Bangasser led the Spartans with three grabs for 39 yards.
“They’re a very good team, but our kids kept fighting,” said Thoren. “We have nothing to hang our heads about, we just ran up against a better team.”
The Spartans more than doubled their win total from last year’s 3-5 campaign in Thoren’s second season at the helm and earned the school’s first playoff victory in 25 years.
“The kids made a lot of progress and the seniors did an outstanding job this year,” said Thoren, who already set the bar for next year’s squad in his post-game speech. “We just challenged the younger kids to continue what has been started and keep it moving forward. We have a lot of to be proud of and a lot things to continue to work on.”
Grundy Center rebounded from a 0-2 start to win seven of its last nine games. “We learned from that, came back and got closer as a team from those two games,” said Hook. “We decided that we were going to try and go somewhere bigger than where we have in a long time. … The Warriors’ last loss came on Oct. 31, 2011 in a 13-10 second round playoff defeat to Alburnett. Wapsie Valley entered the game second in Class A in total rushing yards (3,544), scoring (470) and total offense (4,007). … Kleitsch had the second-most rushing yards in Class A coming into Monday with 1,608. … The Spartans graduate 14 seniors including Jeff Pikna, Nick Mauer, Jordan Clapp, Lane Bangasser, Dalton Havercamp, Bryce Moats, Colton Jacobs, Ethan Hogle, Heather Lamfers, Dakota Gage, Andrew Sternhagen, Brandon Simms, Kris Cole and Brady Hook. … All of the Spartans’ losses came against ranked foes including No. 9 AGWSR, No. 6 Gladbrook-Reinbeck and Class 1A No. 2 Dike-New Hartford.