CEDAR FALLS – Top-ranked Grundy Center was right where it expected to be.
Locked in a close, hard-fought battle with No. 3 Iowa City Regina in the Class A state championship game.
But then disaster struck during a nightmarish two-minute stretch early in the second quarter.
Regina recovered an onside kick, Spartan standout Zach Opheim was injured and the Regals forced a turnover in a span of just 129 seconds.
After prevailing in a rematch of last year's title game, the Spartans will meet Council Bluffs St. Albert on Friday in the UNI-Dome.
Perennial power Regina capitalized, opening a big lead en route to a 52-28 football win over Grundy Center on Thursday afternoon at the UNI-Dome.
“Regina was incredibly physical,” Grundy Center coach Travis Zajac said. “They were the most physical team we’ve played all year and we struggled with that. Our kids continued to play hard in the second half. It obviously didn’t go the way we wanted to, but hats off to Regina. They’re a really good football team. I’m proud of the way we fought back in the second half.”
Regina (11-1) captured its eighth state title. Grundy Center was seeking its fourth crown.
The onside kick the Regals recovered was a huge turning point in the game.
“Grundy Center has a great football team,” Regina coach Marv Cook said. “They had a really nice, long, well-executed scoring drive. We came back with a field goal and we decided to try the onside kick. We saw on film we might have a chance to execute it. Alec Wick is an incredible soccer player and he executed it perfectly. To be able to get points there was huge for us.”
Second in the state in 2019, Grundy Center powered back into the championship game this season with an 11-0 record against a loaded Regina squad.
The Spartans trailed 10-7 early in the second quarter when Regina attempted an onside kick and recovered just inside Grundy Center territory.
On the next play, Opheim suffered a back injury while playing linebacker. He was down on the field before being eventually helped to the sidelines.
The Spartans were unable to overcome the loss of Opheim, a dynamic senior who rushed for over 1,800 yards this season. He finished with three early carries for 10 yards Thursday and did not return after his injury.
Grundy Center overcame a sluggish start before earning a convincing 34-6 win over No. 10 Council Bluffs St. Albert in the Class A semifinals Friday afternoon at the UNI-Dome.
“Zach’s been playing really hard for us all season and it was unfortunate that he tweaked his lower back,” Zajac said. “He’s devastated right now – he wanted to be out there helping us. Losing a player of Zach’s caliber was difficult. It was hard for us to overcome, but that doesn’t take anything away from what Regina did. They were the better football team today.”
Two plays after the onside kick, Regina quarterback Ashton Cook fired a 39-yard strike to Alec Wick. The Regals then scored on a 1-yard plunge by Theo Kolie to lead 17-7.
Regina forced a turnover on the ensuing Grundy Center drive before Kolie scored two more second-quarter touchdowns. Regina took a commanding 31-7 halftime lead against a Spartan team that had allowed just 4.9 points per game.
Grundy Center stayed right with the Regals for the game’s first 15 minutes.
Down 7-0, the Spartans embarked on a methodical 13-play, 80-yard drive to tie the game. Cole Lehr capped the march with a 2-yard scoring pass from quarterback Logan Knaack
The six-plus minute march included a pair of clutch passes – one on third down and one on fourth down – from Knaack to Nick Ascher
Regina kicked a field goal on the next drive before recovering the onside kick and breaking the game open after the Opheim injury.
“The onside kick was definitely a big turning point in the game,” Zajac said. “They made a big play and it paid off for them.”
The Spartans were held to just 87 total yards in the opening half.
Ashton Cook, son of the head coach, finished his prep career with a masterful 325-yard passing performance.
“We know our offense can score at any time,” Cook said. “We capitalized on our opportunities early and that changed the game. We had all of the momentum after that. It means a lot to win a state championship. We worked really hard for this.”
Kolie rushed for five touchdowns, including four in the first half. He finished with 124 yards on the ground.
“We played our best football the last two weeks,” Coach Cook said. “We got the momentum early in this game and it kind of snowballed. We played really physical on both sides of the ball.”
Knaack finished a superb junior season by passing for 262 yards, including 192 in the second half. He passed for two scores and rushed for two more. Ascher finished with 214 yards receiving.
Grundy Center accomplished plenty this season. The Spartans won their district, powered to four playoff wins and held the No. 1 state ranking the entire season.
“This is a disappointing end to the season, but our guys should be very proud of the way they played,” Zajac said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more from my players, my coaches and the Grundy Center community.”
Regina 52, Grundy Center 28
I.C. Regina 7 24 7 14 – 52
Grundy Center 7 0 7 14 – 28
ICR – Theo Kolie 2 run (Alec Wick kick)
GC – Cole Lehr 2 pass from Logan Knaack (Colin Gordon kick)
ICR – Wick 22 FG
ICR – Kolie 1 run (Wick kick)
ICR – Kolie 1 run (Wick kick)
ICR – Kolie 5 run (Wick kick)
ICR – Carson Jensen 12 pass from Ashton Cook (Wick kick)
GC – Knaack 1 run (Gordon kick)
ICR – Kolie 4 run (Wick kick)
ICR – Wick 88 pass from Cook (Andrew Deninger kick)
GC – Knaack 6 run (Gordon kick)
GC – Nick Ascher 65 pass from Knaack (Gordon kick)
First downs 22 15
Rushes-yards 44-209 22-36
Passing yards 325 262
Comp-att-int 17-24-0 13-27-1
Punts-avg. 3-40.3 4-46.5
Fumbles-lost 0-0 2-1
Penalties-yards 10-111 1-5
REGINA – Kolie 29-124, Cook 9-42, Wick 1-42, Chris Waikel 1-4.
GRUNDY CENTER – Lehr 6-22, Zach Opheim 3-10, Knaack 13-4.
REGINA – Cook 17-24-0, 325 yards.
GRUNDY CENTER – Knaack 13-27-1, 262 yards.
REGINA – Wick 9-226, Kolie 3-24, Levi Quinlan 2-53, Sam Aitchison 2-10.
GRUNDY CENTER – Nick Ascher 8-214, Dexter Whitehill 3-44, Austin Betts 1-2, Lehr 1-2.
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