They can’t all be easy. The West Hancock football team knew at some point, a team other than HMS was going to be a challenge, and Grundy Center was just that Thursday afternoon inside the UNI DOME.
Talk about watching a movie in real life. After spending much of the season as the #1 team and blowing almost all of their opponents out of the water, teams in Class A knew, “all roads lead to West Hancock.”
Grundy Center struck first, marching the ball 70 yards on 13 plays to open the game with a 7-0 lead. Not for long, though. West Hancock came right back to tie the game with a drive of their own. The Eagles drove 66 yards in seven plays and capped the drive with a 24-yard touchdown run by Braden Walk.
Walk, checked out by trainers, and then re-entered the game, announced afterward that he played the rest with a broken hand, that he said wouldn’t keep him out.
As the second quarter started, Grundy Center was again driving with their second possession of the game. Just as it looked like they were headed in to score and retake the lead, Kane Zuehl ended the 55-yard drive by catching a deflected football for an interception. West Hancock then marched the field again, driving 74 yards on 11 plays, as Matthew Francis gave the Eagles their first lead with a 19 yard run to the house. The PAT was no good, and West Hancock took a 13-7 lead into halftime.
After the half, it was more West Hancock. The Eagles hadn’t gone much to the air in the game, but eight-play into their opening drive of the second half, they found the perfect time. Quarterback Mitchell Smith hit Rylan Barnes for a 34-yard touchdown giving the Eagles a two-score lead, 19-7.
Grundy Center made it interesting in the fourth quarter. They scored with a little less than nine minutes to play, cutting the lead to one score, 19-14.
The Eagles’ offense tried to run the clock out but were forced to punt on fourth down and three from the Grundy Center 44 yard line. Though, they did use up two Grundy Center timeouts and five minutes of the game clock. Rylan Barnes’ punt was just inches from going out-of-bounds on the one-yard line, but instead, it hit the pylon for a touchback.
The game started to take on a Friday Night Lights storyline. Instead of the Dallas Carter defense needing a stop, it was the West Hancock Eagles. And instead of Lucas Black coming up inches short, it was Logan Knaack coming up nine yards short of a state title. Grundy Center attempted but failed to get the ball spiked; it was a sea of red rushing the field while the players in maroon and white fell to the turf. The last chance drive for the Spartans covered 71 yards in 13 plays using up the remaining 2:38 on the clock.
Different from the movie Friday night lights. West Hancock football teams play with class and are respected for that reason.
After waiting 23 years between Britt’s title in 1973 and West Hancock’s first title in 1996, and another 23 years before West Hancock’s second title in 2019, the Eagles are champs again in 2021. The first senior class to win two state championships sounds pretty cool to Francis, Walk, and the center, Parker Means, who also spoke with the media following the win.
Mark Sanger will join Zarren Egesdal at 9:20 AM Saturday morning on the KIOW Coaches Corner Program. A re-broadcast of the state championship game will take place on KIOW 107.3 Saturday at 7:00 PM.
A complete reaction from yesterday’s state championship. The full interview with coach Mark Sanger, plus audio from Parker Means, Matthew Francis, and Braden Walk.