Fort Dodge head coach Matt Miller had an intricate postgame speech planned for his squad after the seventh-ranked (Class 4A) Dodgers pummelled Marshalltown 38-17 here Friday.
As Miller approached the locker room, though, he stopped and listened with a smile.
His players had beaten him to the punch.
FDSH recognized at least a share of its first conference championship in football since 1994 and consecutive seven-win regular seasons for the first time in 60 years, but the celebration was brief. The Dodgers (7-1 overall, 4-0 in the CIML Iowa Conference) have a piece of the pie, and now they want the league title all to themselves - knowing full well they'll have to win at West Des Moines Valley this week to do so.
''When we talked about our goals (in the preseason), we all said, to a man, that we wanted to win the (league championship) - not share it,'' said senior tailback Jontel Clayton, who became Fort Dodge's career rushing kingpin with a season-best 189 yards last night. ''It's nice to know we're at least (co-champs), but there's more to come. (The stakes) only get higher from here.''
The Dodgers dominated the Bobcats (3-5, 0-4) with a barrage of second- and third-quarter scores, reeling off 38 unanswered points in front of a large Senior Night crowd. Clayton had three of the touchdowns, tying him with former Iowa Hawkeye Randy Reiners on the school's all-time TD record list with 33.
Fort Dodge gave another vintage defensive performance as well, picking off four Marshalltown passes and holding its long-time rival under 100 yards on the ground.
''I'm happy for this group, but they still have a big one coming up at Valley and they know it,'' Miller said. ''That's what I respect most about these kids - I was all ready to remind them about the importance of staying focused and not being satisfied with what they've accomplished so far, but they were already saying that to each other before I even walked into the room. That's a veteran ballclub for you that knows what they want from the rest of this season.''
Clayton needed just a single yard to pass Zach Mason (3,221 yards from 2002-04) in the record books. He responded with his biggest outburst of the year, flirting with the 200-yard mark before leaving in the third quarter. He also scored three more times, giving him seven TDs in the last three contests.
Fort Dodge 0 24 14 0-38
Marshalltown 3 0 0 14-17
Marshalltown - Josh Illum (35-yard field goal), 2:16 left first.
Fort Dodge - Jontel Clayton (23-yard run), 11:52 left second. Ty Littzen kick.
Fort Dodge - Willlie Williams (20-yard pass from Levi Peters), 5:18 left second. Littzen kick.
Fort Dodge - Littzen (28-yard field goal), 1:35 left second.
Fort Dodge - Reid Riessen (26-yard interception return), 1:18 left second. Littzen kick.
Fort Dodge - Clayton (10-yard run), 5:22 left third. Littzen kick.
Fort Dodge - Clayton (63-yard run), 3:04 left third. Littzen kick.
Marshalltown - Alex Thompson (26-yard pass from Austin Hauser), 11:19 left fourth. Illum kick.
Marshalltown - Jassiel Quiroz (17-yard pass from Blake Gimbel), 2:27 left fourth. Illum kick.
Rushing - Fort Dodge: Jontel Clayton 20-189, Darreus Caston 6-60, Jalen Mosley 5-20, Willie Williams 1-12, Mark Wilson 1-9, Levi Peters 5-7, Shea Springer 2-5, Sam Edwards 1-3, Cole Jarrard 1-0. Marshalltown: Darius Zeigler 17-43, Jassiel Quiroz 3-30, Austin Hauser 3-16, Ty Steffensen 1-(minus-5), Blake Gimbel 1-(minus-10).
Passing - Fort Dodge: Levi Peters 5-10-0-53, Willie Williams 1-1-0-9, Sam Edwards 0-2-0-0. Marshalltown: Austin Hauser 7-23-3-102, Josh Illum 1-1-0-33, Blake Gimbel 1-3-0-17, Mark Duncan 0-1-1-0.
Receiving - Fort Dodge: Willie Williams 1-20, Reid Riessen 1-15, Mark Wilson 1-13, Isaac Lehman 1-9, Darreus Caston 2-5. Marshalltown: Mark Duncan 3-52, Ty Steffensen 1-43, Alex Thompson 1-26, Darius Zeigler 2-22, Jassiel Quiroz 1-17.
''It obviously means a lot to me, but it's also hard to say much about it because it hasn't sunk in yet,'' said Clayton, who got a congratulatory handshake from Mason's father, Wayne, on the sidelines after the game. ''I guess more than anything, I respect (the record) because I respect all the other names, from Zach (on down). There have been a lot of great ones here, and I'm humbled by being at this point.
''The most important thing is that we got the win. As long as my (yardage) is helping us, that's what matters. But I want to thank all of my teammates and (specifically) the offensive linemen for what, to me, is a team honor.''
Fort Dodge actually trailed 3-0 at the end of the first period, but the floodgates opened from there. Clayton put the Dodgers ahead to stay with a 23-yard touchdown jaunt, and Willie Williams caught a 20-yard scoring strike from Levi Peters on the next possession.
Junior Ty Littzen kicked his school record-tying sixth field goal of the campaign - a 28-yarder with 1:35 left in the second quarter - and senior Reid Riessen intercepted a pass and returned it 26 yards to paydirt moments later for a commanding 24-3 halftime advantage. Littzen, a three-year varsity regular, also established a new career mark with 13 FGs.
Clayton had both of the FDSH touchdowns in the third period - a 10-yard burst up the middle and a pretty 63-yard frolic to paydirt. Riessen intercepted another pass, joining senior Colin Hendricks and Williams in the pick party.
''Our first-string defense gave up three points and well under 200 yards of total offense,'' Miller said. ''And it's great to see Jontel have a big game like this, where the home crowd can applaud it and appreciate it. I know Zach was here just six years ago, but you don't get to see backs like Jontel and Zach very often.''
Now the focus shifts to Valley, which drilled Waukee last night, 38-7. The perennial power is currently 6-2 overall and 3-1 in the league.
The Dodgers and Tigers split their two meetings a year ago, with FDSH rolling during the regular season and Valley winning in the substate round.
''We'll go at it with all we've got,'' Miller said. ''There won't be any let-up or letdown from our kids. Valley is a tremendous team and an outstanding program. They've been the class of our league since it was established, so this is a special opportunity to add to what's already been a special season.''
Contact Eric Pratt at (515) 573-2141, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org