MARSHALLTOWN - Fort Dodge head coach Matt Miller felt the Dodger defense did enough to put his team in a position to win here Friday.
Unfortunately, the same could be said for Marshalltown - and then some.
An unexpected defensive slugfest broke out between the two most prolific passing offenses in Class 4A last night at Cole Field, and the homestanding Bobcats stole the show by forcing four turnovers and keeping FDSH bottled up en route to a 24-14 CIML Iowa Conference victory.
Quick touchdown strikes at the start of both the first and second half set the tone for Marshalltown (6-2 overall, 2-2 league), which otherwise sputtered relative to its gaudy offensive averages. The Bobcats more than held their own defensively, though, thwarting multiple threats by the Dodgers (3-5, 2-2) down the stretch.
"If you would have told me beforehand that we'd hold them to (a season-low) 24 points and their passing game nearly 100 yards under their average, I would've liked our chances," Miller said. "To their credit, though, the defense - like ours - came to play. We missed some opportunities, which was partly on us but also because they had defensive stands to keep us in check.
"Our kids gave a heck of an effort, but we made just enough mistakes and couldn't quite get over the hump."
Fort Dodge 0 7 7 0 - 14
Marshalltown 10 0 14 0 - 24
Marshalltown - Tad Steffensen (21-yard pass from Blake Gimbel), 10:28 left first. Gimbel kick.
Marshalltown - Gimbel (23-yard field goal), 1:19 left first.
Fort Dodge - Isaac Lehman (6-yard pass from Sam Edwards), 0:21 left second. Ty Littzen kick.
Marshalltown - Dominick Osborne (5-yard run), 11:26 left third. Gimbel kick.
Marshalltown - Austin Hauser (7-yard pass from Gimbel), 7:13 left third. Gimbel kick.
Fort Dodge - Lehman (8-yard pass from Edwards), 0:11 left third. Littzen kick.
Rushing - Fort Dodge: Austin Anderson 13-47, Devon Kerby 9-37, Sam Edwards 9-(minus-23). Marshalltown: Dominick Osborne 17-116, Tad Steffensen 1-11, Ty Steffensen 7-5, Blake Gimbel 8-(minus-47).
Passing - Fort Dodge: Sam Edwards 15-41-3-203. Marshalltown: Blake Gimbel 21-35-0-308.
Receiving - Fort Dodge: Jaydan Bruhl-Lara 7-96, Isaac Lehman 4-62, Tommy Halligan 2-26, Keegan Jones 1-16, Cole Jarrard 1-3. Marshalltown: Ty Steffensen 8-122, Austin Hauser 5-97, Tad Steffensen 3-55, Brandon Pettigrew 2-30, Dominick Osborne 3-0.
Junior quarterback Blake Gimbel, the state's overall leader in nearly every passing category, did throw for 308 yards in the victory. The total didn't come close to his season average, though, and Fort Dodge sacked him four times while forcing three fumbles and yielding just 75 net rushing yards.
For as many times as the Dodgers came through defensively, however, the Bobcats always had an answer for FDSH signal-caller Sam Edwards and the second-ranked passing attack in 4A.
Edwards topped the 200-yard mark for the seventh time, but he threw a season-high 26 incompletions and was intercepted on three different occasions. Edwards had been hitting over 59 percent of his passes coming in.
"We just weren't as sharp as we have been throwing the ball," Miller said. "Combined with a few other miscues and it really kept us from getting within legitimate striking distance."
Playing without the services of Dillon Christensen - the squad's starting tailback, linebacker and punter - Fort Dodge seemed to miss him the most in special teams. The Dodgers' six punts netted a 17.4-yard average, with four going for less than 16 yards.
Combined with a botched fake field goal that looked to be there for the taking and an on-side kick that FDSH initially recovered then lost, it was enough to hand the Dodgers their first road loss of the year.
Senior Jaydan Bruhl-Lara set single-game personal bests for receptions (7) and yards (96). Classmate Isaac Lehman hauled in four passes for 62 yards and a pair of scores from Edwards, giving Lehman 10 touchdowns on the year.
An interception set up the Bobcats' first score just 1:32 into the contest, and Marshalltown led 10-0 for the majority of the first half. A nine-play, 80-yard drive in the waning moments of the second quarter - capped by a short Lehman TD - got the Dodgers back in it 21 seconds before the break.
Sophomore tailback Devon Kerby had runs of 10 and 14 yards during the possession in his varsity debut, and Bruhl-Lara hauled in passes of 20 and 23 yards from Edwards on consecutive snaps.
The Bobcats immediately went up 17-7 at the start of the third quarter, then extended the advantage to 24-7 on their next drive after a shanked FDSH punt. Both scoring possessions started in Dodger territory, matching the one in the first half that began at Fort Dodge's 21-yard line.
"All three touchdown drives were from our side of the field," Miller said. "That can't happen. You'll pay for that."
A 17-play, 67-yard TD march gobbled up nearly seven minutes of the third quarter to draw the Dodgers back within 10 points. Fort Dodge had three fourth-down conversions during the drive.
The Dodger defense stalled Marshalltown out in the red zone on the ensuing possession. Seniors Michael Pals and Cole Jarrard recovered fourth-quarter fumbles, but Edwards was intercepted twice and Bruhl-Lara also lost the ball after a completion to keep Fort Dodge on the outside looking in.
"Jaydan's really become a reliable target for us," Miller said. "Isaac's still struggling with his hip injury and we needed someone else to step up. Jaydan's been answering the call all season long."
Seeing his first extensive playing time of the season, Pals recorded a sack and recovered a fumble as a designated pass rusher. Seniors Cole Jarrard and Gormally also pounced on loose footballs.
Senior Jalen Mosley sacked Gimbel twice, while junior Adrean Johnson also dragged Gimbel down for a loss. Gormally made three big pass break-ups from his safety position as well, including two in the end zone.
"It's great to see someone like Pals come into a game like this and take advantage of being on the field," Miller said. "This is the kind of offense that we can use him and let him loose to rush the quarterback. He did a nice job. Will made some huge plays as well, and Jalen had a couple of big tackles for loss.
"Our defense did its part - that's for sure."
Junior Austin Anderson and Kirby combined to rush 22 times for a respectable 84 yards. Marshalltown answered with senior Dominick Osborne, who had 17 carries for 116 yards.
Ty Steffensen, the state's receiving leader, hauled in eight passes for 122 yards.
Marshalltown defeated the Dodgers at Cole Field for the sixth consecutive time dating back to 2002.
Fort Dodge closes the regular season at home on Friday against top-ranked West Des Moines Valley. The undefeated Tigers crushed Waukee last night, 55-14.
Contact Eric Pratt at (515) 573-2141, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org