DES MOINES - After patiently waiting their turn, a pair of Fort Dodge seniors burst onto the scene in unprecedented fashion here Friday.
Quarterback Sam Edwards threw for a school-record 354 yards and four touchdowns in his first varsity start as the Dodgers defeated Des Moines East by a 28-19 final on a picture-perfect evening at Williams Field.
While the 6-foot-3, 215-pound senior captain found five different receivers and three FDSH players had touchdown catches, Edwards' favorite target, classmate Isaac Lehman, hauled in six balls for 188 yards and a pair of scores. Like Edwards, Lehman was making his debut as a starter.
It was a common theme for Fort Dodge, which had 18 different names in its lineup as a follow-up to the banner campaign of a year ago. The new pack in red and black didn't skip a beat, earning the program its 19th regular-season victory in 23 tries dating back to October of 2008.
For at least a week, the transition was seamless.
"Sure it was hard standing on the sidelines (as a junior)," Edwards said. "But none of us cared because we were winning and that was all that mattered (the Dodgers went 8-2 and captured their first unbeaten conference championship in 60 years). We were still a big part of it in practice and in the locker room. You can't complain about (lack of playing time), because when you're on a team, it's all about the team and there's nothing better than a win on a Friday night.
"Do we kind of feel like we had something to prove? Sure. And that doesn't change after one win. We're going to keep playing with the same intensity and drive, because the guys before us set a high standard and we want to keep it that way."
Edwards, the younger brother of former FDSH signal-caller Zach Edwards and the son of ex-Dodger basketball coach Brad Edwards, took to the air early and never looked back. He hit Lehman up the middle of the field for a 74-yard touchdown on the Dodgers' first play from scrimmage, then found Lehman again (40 yards) and junior fullback Tommy Halligan (60 yards) for scores as Fort Dodge turned an early 6-0 deficit into a 21-12 lead by halftime.
"I'll be honest: a lot of the (converted passes) were throws most high school quarterbacks could make. I wasn't doing anything special," Edwards said. "The difference was the protection from our offensive line and the routes our receivers ran. They made my (statistics) look good; they deserve the credit.
"It's great to see someone like Isaac, who's probably my best friend in the world, have a big game. We took advantage of having an athletic fullback like Tommy. Dillon (Christensen) and Wes (Castro) made nice
catches. Austin (Anderson) got one at the end (a 25-yarder for a score to put the finishing touches on the win). They all did a great job, and our line helped make it all happen."
Patience was a virtue as well for Lehman, who had just a single reception last fall.
"We just had to keep working hard and waiting for our turn," Lehman said. "We've been putting in the time for something like this to happen.
"A lot of us are kind of playing with a chip on our shoulder, wanting to show everyone that we have a pretty good team too. The guys who graduated ahead of us did some amazing things, but we don't want to let that winning tradition fall off. We'll do our best to follow in their footsteps."
Fort Dodge protected its nine-point halftime advantage for the majority of the second half, but the Scarlets pulled within two points on a hook-and-lateral play that covered 70 yards on a pitch from Abu Sama to Kyler Krogman with 7:50 remaining in regulation. The Dodger defense buckled down from there, however, and Edwards found Anderson standing alone in the end zone on a fourth-down pass for the icing on the cake in the final minute.
After surrendering a 10-play, 80-yard TD drive right out of the gate, Fort Dodge allowed just 58 yards of total offense the rest of the half. Shifty junior quarterback Xavier James did complete 22 of his 28 passes for 254 yards for East, but the Dodgers gave up only 18 total yards on the ground.
"We were kind of at an advantage in that (the Scarlets) didn't quite know what to expect, and we threw some wrinkles in there to try and keep them on their heels," FDSH head coach Matt Miller said. "For the most part, we played well and the kids should be very proud. We made mistakes of course, but they're correctable. Obviously our passing game with Sam, Isaac and all of the receivers was everything we could have hoped for, and really, I thought our defense was outstanding after the slow start.
"We left some points out there and we were far from perfect, but given how many kids were starting for the first time, they should be pleased with the step they took (Friday). It was just the first one, but it was a big one."
Christensen, a senior who saw time as a linebacker last season, picked up a pair of sacks and had punts of 47 and 42 yards for FDSH. Halligan caught three passes for 81 yards. Junior Austin Anderson led the Dodgers on the ground with 51 yards against East, which returned 13 starters from its 4-6 squad of a year ago.
Senior Jericho Habben returned a kickoff 60 yards.
Fort Dodge did pick up 88 yards in penalties and had two drives stall in the red zone, but Miller said a lot of it was "typical Week 1 stuff. If we're making the same mistakes down the road, then I'll be worried. But we've got something to go on now - we can get the film, break it down with the guys and see where we need to improve. For (Friday night), though, they can enjoy what they just accomplished."
The Dodgers open a three-game homestand this Friday against Urbandale. The J-Hawks flattened Des Moines Hoover last night, 54-8.