Magic runs out for Redhawks, senior players reflect

North Tama run aground by Grundy Center again, 28-7

North Tama’s senior players from left to right, Aiden Zook (11), Thomas Hulme (51), Michael Bell (42), Devin McKinley (2), Logan Rausch (53), Nathan Kucera (62), Gabe Kopriva (1), Adam Greiner (6), Camden Clausen (56), Austin Unker (26), and manager Clay Hershberger (61) cross the field Friday night in Spartan Stadium ahead of their state quarterfinal match-up with Grundy Center for what turned out to be the final coin toss of their collective high school football careers. The Redhawks capped off a captivating season with a tough loss to Grundy Center, 28-7. Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker

Friday night’s game between North Tama and hosts Grundy Center was a rematch of a regular-season finale from three weeks prior. In that game, the Spartans shut out North Tama 28-0 and clinched the Class A District 3 title.

On this occasion, the Redhawks and Spartans were fighting for something bigger — a trip to the UNI-Dome and the state football semifinals.

Grundy Center again got the best of North Tama, rolling to a 28-7 victory and ending the Redhawks’ season. North Tama’s final record is 8-3, while the 10-1 Spartans are heading to the Dome for the third-straight season.

Following the opening kickoff, Grundy Center took the ball 50 yards and scored the opening touchdown of the game on a 23-yard pass.

The 7-0 lead lasted six game minutes, as the Redhawks marched right down the field and scored a touchdown of their own on a four-yard pass from Gabe Kopriva to Michael Bell. The game was tied after the first quarter, with North Tama already showing more of a fight than in their first meeting.

North Tama senior Aiden Zook (11) is consoled by Grundy Center’s Cole Lehr during the fourth quarter of Friday’s Class A state football quarterfinal game in Grundy Center. The host Spartans eliminated the Redhawks 28-7 to advance to the UNI-Dome next week. Photo by Noah Rohlfing

A mistake in the second quarter turned the game’s momentum. Facing a third-and-22 after a penalty, North Tama decided to run a trick play. The double pass failed as Aiden Zook’s attempted throw to Kopriva was intercepted and returned 27 yards for a touchdown. The game would not be tied the rest of the night.

Following a three-and-out, Grundy Center marched down the field and scored with less than two minutes left in the first half to make it 20-7 (the extra point failed). For the third straight playoff game, the Redhawks were down at the half.

This time, though, the Redhawks’ magic had run out.

Senior Devin McKinley said he was proud of the team for continuing to fight in the second half.

“To come to the quarterfinals is a big deal,” McKinley said. “We play our football and this is what we’ve been doing since the third grade. We throw the ball around, we run around, we fly and we hit people and we love it.”

North Tama senior quarterback Gabe Kopriva runs for a gain before being brought down by a host of Grundy Center defenders. Photo by Noah Rohlfing

North Tama’s first possession of the second half resulted in an interception, the Redhawks’ second turnover of the night. Grundy Center couldn’t capitalize on it and turned the ball over on downs. Following another turnover on downs, this time by the Redhawks, Grundy Center got the ball back at the North Tama 46. A six-minute drive covered those 46 yards and effectively put the contest out of reach with an 8-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter.

The Redhawks tried to rally, but a fumble by Kopriva that Grundy Center pounced on was the end of the team’s best chance for points.

A turnaround season from the Redhawks ended three scores short of the Dome, but Kopriva said it was a fulfilling year.

“So proud,” Kopriva said. “Everybody had us fifth in our district at the beginning of the year and then we came and we did this. Everybody has got to hold your head high and be proud of this, it’s something awesome.”

Instrumental to the team’s turnaround from a two-win year in 2020 to eight in 2021 was the understanding between second-year head coach Taylor Wurth and a group of six seniors — Kopriva, McKinley, Adam Greiner, Bell, Zook and Austin Unker — who made big impacts on offense with the ball.

Photo by Noah Rohlfing

Greiner said this group, along with other seniors Thomas Hulme, Logan Rausch, Camden Clausen and Nathan Kucera, made it a senior season to remember.

“It was fun,” Greiner said. “We all love each other, we’re all closer than anybody.”