Fort Dodge's chances for a Homecoming victory were all but swept away in the third quarter against Waukee here Friday.
With the Dodgers falling behind by 30 points in a cyclone of misfortune after a tight first half, most assumed Matt Miller's squad would be on the wrong end of a lopsided defeat when all was said and done.
Instead, Fort Dodge made things interesting down the stretch and satisfied its head coach despite what wound up being a 33-17 setback.
Messenger photo by Dale Wooten
Fort Dodge's Ty Littzen boots a school-record 51-yard field goal at Dodger Stadium on Friday. For more photos, please visit CU at www.messengernews.net
The Warriors (5-2 overall, 3-0 in the CIML Iowa Conference) remained in a first-place tie with third-ranked West Des Moines Valley atop the league standings after a victory driven by the wind and marred by penalties in a bizarre second half. Four Waukee touchdowns in a nine-minute flurry turned a three-point contest into what appeared to be a rout, but the Dodgers (3-4, 2-1) fought back and almost crawled within a single possession twice in the waning minutes of regulation.
''Our kids gave a fighting effort; things didn't go their way in that third quarter, we got really banged up, but they never quit and I'm proud of them for that,'' Miller said. ''This is a good group, and they've shown a lot of resilience in the past month. I'm counting this game, too. Obviously it wasn't the outcome we wanted, but there are things we can take away from this as long as we get healed up.''
Despite losing one of their best overall players on the final play of the first half and falling into a short-field trap that led to an avalanche of Warrior touchdowns after the break, Fort Dodge didn't panic and took advantage of having a 25 mile per hour wind at its back late. The comeback wasn't enough, though, and Miller was questioning his second-half strategy afterward.
Fort Dodge - Ty Littzen (51-yard field goal), 5:17 left first.
Waukee - Ike Bruns (26-yard field goal), 1:02 left first.
Waukee - Bruns (45-yard field goal), 0:02 left second.
Waukee - Nate Lucs (16-yard run), 10:38 left third. Bruns kick.
Waukee - Lucs (2-yard run), 7:29 left third. Run failed.
Waukee - Lucs (19-yard pass from Cole Pederson), 4:22 left third. Bruns kick.
Waukee - Ryan Owens (36-yard pass from Pederson), 3:05 left third. Bruns kick.
Fort Dodge - Isaac Lehman (12-yard pass from Sam Edwards), 10:00 left fourth. Littzen kick.
Fort Dodge - Tommy Halligan (24-yard pass from Edwards), 7:31 left fourth. Littzen kick.
RUSHING-Fort Dodge: Dillon Christensen 8-33, Austin Anderson 5-5, Wesley Castro 1-(minus-2), Sam Edwards 9-(minus-33). Waukee: Cole Pederson 20-119, Nate Lucs 11-81, Jordan O'Daye 9-18, A.J. Allen 3-9.
PASSING-Fort Dodge: Sam Edwards 18-38-0-215. Waukee: Cole Pederson 5-10-0-116.
RECEIVING - Fort Dodge: Jaydan Bruhl-Lara 6-66, Tommy Halligan 5-62, Isaac Lehman 5-45, Tyler Vaughn 1-30, Austin Anderson 1-12. Waukee: Ryan Owens 1-36, Kellen Kollmorgen 1-35, Nate Lucs 1-19, Beau Easley 1-16, Kyle Kubiak 1-10.
''We seriously considered kicking off to start the third quarter (instead of receiving) and having the wind at our back,'' Miller said. ''Maybe we should have. I didn't expect the wind to pick up, but it seemed to as the night went on.
''Their first three (scoring) drives started in our territory - you can't give good teams the short field time and time again and expect to hold them off.''
Senior Sam Edwards threw for 178 of his 215 yards in the fourth quarter, finding classmate Isaac Lehman and junior Tommy Halligan for touchdowns to make it 33-17 with 7:31 left. The Dodgers were in goal-to-go situations twice after that, but came up empty both times.
Lehman caught five passes to become the program's all-time single-season leader in receptions with 43. He left the contest with an injury midway through the fourth quarter, however, and wasn't around to help continue the rally.
Senior Dillon Christensen was sidelined for the entire second half after hurting his ankle right before the break. Christensen is a starting tailback, linebacker and punter for FDSH.
''Not having Dillon out there really affected us,'' Miller admitted. ''Then Isaac went down, Tommy (Halligan) got banged up, Will (Gormally) got banged up, Jaydan (Bruhl-Lara), Cole (Jarrard) - it was a physical game and we paid the price.''
Slithery senior quarterback Cole Pederson rushed for 119 yards and passed for 116 more to lead Waukee to its fourth straight win. Pederson now has 787 yards of total offense in three CIML Iowa contests.
''I said coming in that he was one of the better all-around athletes in our entire conference, and he just solidified that (Friday),'' Miller said. ''Pederson's very hard to corral. He and (Nate) Lucs (11 carries, 81 yards, three touchdowns) really had their way with us in the third quarter especially.''
Senior Ty Littzen, the program's all-time field goal leader, booted a Dodger-record 51-yarder in the first quarter to give them an early 3-0 advantage. It was the 16th field goal of Littzen's career.
Waukee's Ike Bruns answered with a pair of three-pointers - the latter with two seconds left in the first half - to push the visitors ahead 6-3 at halftime.
The second stanza featured plenty of scoring, but was also overwhelmed by penalties. The Warriors committed 10 infractions totaling 116 yards after the intermission; Fort Dodge was whistled five times for 87 yards.
Junior Adrean Johnson and sophomore Riley Prescott recorded sacks for the Dodgers, who failed to pick up a single turnover despite two errant Waukee snaps that lost 44 total yards. Bruhl-Lara (six catches, 66 yards) and Halligan (5-62) were Edwards' main targets, along with Lehman.
Fort Dodge has just three net yards rushing after accumulating 343 in road wins over Ames and Mason City the past two weeks. Christensen had a relatively productive first half on the ground before leaving with his injury.
The Dodgers visit Marshalltown (5-2, 1-2) on Friday. Fort Dodge has prevailed in five straight road contests dating back to last season.
Contact Eric Pratt at (515) 573-2141, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org