WAUKEE - It wasn't pretty or easy, but the seventh-ranked (Class 4A) Fort Dodge football team gutted out a 21-7 victory over Waukee here Friday to take over sole possession of the CIML Iowa Conference lead.
The Dodgers (6-1 overall, 3-0 in the league) stopped the Warriors (3-4, 2-1) seven different times inside the FDSH 30-yard line, coming up clutch time and time again defensively to secure consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1993 and '94. Senior tailback Jontel Clayton tied Zach Mason on the school's career rushing charts with a 115-yard effort, as the Dodgers snapped a three-game losing streak to Waukee in a heavy-hitting clash that was closer than the final margin of victory would indicate.
"You take them any way you can get them on the road in our conference," FDSH head coach Matt Miller said. "What an effort by our defense. They were really backed into a corner a lot, and they always responded. To have that many drives stall out deep in our territory - they just made stop after stop after stop. My hat goes off to our kids."
Of those seven possession-changers, two came in goal-to-go situations. Waukee had 2nd-and-goal at the 1 in the final minute of the first half, but the Dodgers stuffed them twice and forced an incomplete pass on fourth down as time expired.
The Warriors also had a 1st-and-goal at the 3 early in the fourth period, when a gang of FDSH defenders stripped quarterback Eli Egger. Dodger senior Levi Porter scooped the ball up and returned it to midfield.
Senior Darreus Caston saved a touchdown on the play before the fumble, tracking receiver Sean Pihlblad down from behind on what looked to be an open lane to the end zone.
"That was an all-state player making an all-state play," Miller said of Caston's save. "As has been the case all year long, we had a lot of different kids step up when we needed something big to happen defensively. There are a lot of guys who deserve credit for keeping them off the scoreboard."
Caston and fellow senior captain Colin Hendricks both picked off passes, while senior linebacker Connor Morain registered two more sacks - giving him six in the last two weeks.
Egger tested the Dodgers' secondary, throwing the ball 30 times. He did connect on a few - namely to all-state receiver Jonny Getting, who hauled in five balls for 128 yards - but Fort Dodge forced 20 incompletions to go along with the two interceptions.
Clayton, who now sits deadlocked with Mason at 3,221 career rushing yards, broke loose for a 57-yard run that set up a 16-yard TD burst from Caston in the third quarter after the Warriors had pulled within 14-7. Clayton had scored on the ground in the first half, as did quarterback Levi Peters.
Waukee became the fourth Dodger opponent held to single digits this year, joining Des Moines East, Urbandale and Mason City on FDSH's hit list. The Dodgers have surrendered just 14 total points in the last two weeks.
"Our offense wasn't at its best; I thought we had a good gameplan, but we made some mistakes and Waukee hit us hard," Miller said. "I'm sure they were thinking about how they'd pulled away from us with big second halves the last three times we'd played, and when they got a quick score to start the third, they probably thought they were on their way. But we answered with (a touchdown) and our defense buckled down from there."
The Warriors had their three-game winning streak snapped by Fort Dodge, which now hosts Marshalltown on Friday with a chance to secure at least a share of its first league football championship since being crowned tri-champs of the CIML National Conference in 1994.
By midway through the fourth quarter, the vast majority of Waukee fans had left the stadium. As time winded down, approximately 250 Dodger fans who had made the trip south celebrated the victory with their squad across from a nearly-empty section of Warrior supporters.
"We're pretty banged up, but it's nice to grind out a road win and head back home," Miller said. "It's an exciting position to be in (at 3-0 in the league), but we still have two games left in the regular season and we want to finish what we started here."
Contact Eric Pratt at (515) 573-2141, or by e-mail at email@example.com