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Dodgers open with defending champs

Fort Dodge heads to No. 8 Valley

October 24, 2012
By ERIC PRATT - Sports Editor (sports@messengernews.net) , Messenger News

WEST DES MOINES - Don't tuck those ''Beat Valley'' shirts away just yet, Dodger fans.

Fort Dodge resurrects its rivalry with West Des Moines Valley for one night here Wednesday, as the long-time CIML foes square off in a Class 4A playoff opener.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

The shift to district football in the 4A ranks led to the demise of the CIML Iowa Conference this season. The Dodgers (3-6 overall) were placed in Division 2, while the seventh-rated Tigers (7-2) landed in Division 1.

As the postseason picture cleared last Friday, Fort Dodge learned after a win at Sioux City North that it would be headed back to Valley Stadium for a matchup with the district champion Tigers.

''At least we know where we're going,'' FDSH head coach Matt Miller laughed. ''It's not like we're in unfamiliar territory, given the opponent and the way (VHS head coach) Gary (Swenson) operates.

''This is a typical Valley ballclub in a lot of ways. Their defense is tough. They run the ball effectively. Their line is big. It's not the type of program that's going to throw a lot of tricks and surprises at you. (The Tigers) are always confident that if it's their best head-to-head against your best, they'll get the job done.''

After a 2-2 start, Valley - the defending state title holder - reeled off five consecutive victories. The Tigers have surrendered just 14 total points in the last three weeks, which included a shutout of then-No. 6 Sioux City East last Friday in a contest that decided the division crown.

''I think they've played one of the tougher schedules in the state this year,'' Miller said. ''They lost to (West Des Moines) Dowling and Southeast Polk, but they beat Urbandale, Waukee and Sioux City East. All five of those teams have been ranked at one time or another.

''Until someone beats them, they're the champs. Ankeny is No. 1 and they're outstanding, but I'd say Valley, Dowling and Southeast Polk are all right there in the mix (on the west side in 4A) as well.''

The Tigers are anchored by three-year starting tailback Tyus Mason (907 yards, eight touchdowns) and a pair of Div. I-bound linemen - 6-foot-2, 256-pound Sam Raridon, who is headed to Wisconsin, and 6-7, 250-pounder Jake Campos, a Missouri recruit.

Senior quarterback Tanner Stine has completed 56 percent of his passes for 1,290 yards and 17 scores. He's been intercepted just three times.

''They're big up front, and (the 5-foot-9) Mason just kind of disappears behind that line,'' Miller said. ''Their quarterback runs the offense well and doesn't make mistakes.

''With Valley, you are always going to see a controlled aggression. They'll hit hard and be in your face, but they also don't take a lot of chances or risks. It's worked for Gary there for 15 years. No reason for him to change anything now.''

Fort Dodge advanced with a 29-26 win at North last week in the regular season finale. Senior receiver Tyler Vaughn is tied for second in 4A with 61 receptions, while junior quarterback Andrew Stover has 1,758 passing yards, placing him ninth in 4A.

The 6-foot-3 Vaughn, an all-state baseball player, is the new school single-season and career record-holder for catches. Stover's yardage total is also an FDSH best for the junior class.

The Dodgers and Tigers met every season from 1992 until last year on the gridiron. Valley is 19-4 all-time against Fort Dodge, but Miller's squad took two of the last four meetings.

''The kids have turned in a good few days of practice,'' Miller said. ''They're excited and thankful for the opportunity to play a 10th game, even if it is a tough assignment.

''All that matters at this point is that we're still in the mix.''

These programs captured the last two CIML Iowa Conference championships, with Fort Dodge taking the crown in 2010 and Valley in 2011.

This is Fort Dodge's fifth consecutive postseason appearance under the current format, which was adopted in 2008. Thirty-two of the state's 48 Class 4A programs qualify for the playoffs.

The winner of this contest will take on either Urbandale (7-2) or Johnston (5-4)?in the second round on Monday.