AMES - Fort Dodge football coach Matt Miller called Ames the most explosive offensive team in the state.
At the midway point in the season, it would be hard to argue otherwise.
The fourth-ranked Little Cyclones (4-0 overall) welcome the Dodgers (2-2) to AHS Field here tonight in the Class 4A, Division 2 opener for both programs. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.
Ames currently ranks at or near the top of 4A in nearly every statistical offensive category: passing yards (first), total offense (second), touchdowns (second) and points scored (third). More importantly, the Little Cyclones swept through the non-conference portion of their schedule, which included victories at Southeast Polk and against Ankeny Centennial.
''They're an awfully good ballclub - just so balanced on offense,'' Miller said. ''I honestly think (senior quarterback Sam) Straub and (senior tailback Clifford) Kwaw-Mensah are Div. I-level players. Teams that have tried to stop the pass have been burned by the run, and vice versa.
''On top of that, I think their defense is improved (from a year ago). They're definitely an elite team; I think they're right up there with (top-rated) Dowling, (sixth-ranked) Urbandale and (No. 7) Waukee on this side of the state.''
LT: Riley Prescott, 220, sr.
LG: Carlos Rocha, 240, sr.
C: Jake Porter, 275, sr.
RG: Brandon Dencklau, 200, sr.
RT: Kit McCarville, 270, so.
SE: Zach Anderson, 150, sr.
SE: Spencer Barber, 185, jr.
or Kole Kampen, 160, so.
Z: Brian Murman, 160, jr.
FB: Austin Halligan, 165, jr.
TB: Sam Cook, 190, so.
QB: Andrew Stover, 190, sr.
K: Ethan Schwendemann, 150, jr.
NG: Aryone Perry, 215, so.
DE: Skyler Harris, 210, jr.
OLB: Cory Alexander, 150, sr.
ILB: Brandon Archibald, 185, sr.
ILB: Zach Lowery, 170, jr.
CB: Brandan Schoenfeld, 170, sr.
CB: Gunner Conrad, 145, sr.
The 6-foot-4 Straub (1,112 passing yards, 12 touchdowns) and Kwaw-Mensah (782 rushing yards, 10 TD) have combined for nearly 1,900 yards of total offense and 22 touchdowns in just four games. Meanwhile, 6-foot-2 receiver Alex Brammer leads the entire state with 34 receptions for 599 yards and six scores of his own.
''They have a lot of big, experienced kids,'' Miller said. ''We've faced outstanding offenses in Urbandale and (Sioux City) East, but pound-for-pound, this is probably the best we'll see. (The statistics) certainly back that up.''
The Dodgers (2-2) have won consecutive contests against Marshalltown and Mason City to even their record. Miller said ''we're pretty beat up right now, though,'' with starting offensive lineman Marquan Clayton (knee), nose guard Josh Diosdado (knee) and defensive back Berch Fritz (hip) all either doubtful or out this evening. Senior lineman Carlos Rocha (ankle) is questionable.
''The last two weeks have taken a toll on us,'' Miller said. ''We were hoping to get closer to full-strength this week, but that's just not the case. It is what it is for now, and we'll just have to deal with (the lack of depth) and concentrate on healing up our injured players.''
Miller is proud of an improving FDSH defense, which features as many as five sophomores at a time. Sam Cook (linebacker), Kole Kampen (safety) and newcomer Aryone Perry (nose guard) will start on Friday, with Kadyn Preston (defensive back) and Cainen Hiracheta (linebacker) seeing regular time as well. A small handful of other 10th-graders have also been in the mix defensively this season.
''Did I plan on having all of them up with us and on the field this quickly? Not necessarily,'' Miller said. ''But they've been doing a nice job when given the opportunity.''
Cook (112 carries) is second to only Kwaw-Mensah (118) in 4A for rushing attempts. He's handled the ball 74 times in the last two weeks alone.
''That can't continue,'' Miller said. ''Sam's been really big stabilizing the (tailback position) for us (627 yards), but that's too much of the workload.''
Senior quarterback Andrew Stover has thrown for 579 yards and seven touchdowns against just two interceptions. Stover ranks fourth on the program's career charts in both yards (2,583) and TDs (21). He is 153 yards behind Zach Edwards (2,736 from 2003-05) for second in passing.
Junior Spencer Barber has 14 catches for 208 yards and three scores. Kampen has three interceptions; senior Riley Prescott has four sacks.
Ames leads the all-time series with FDSH, 32-26-3. The Little Cyclones won 14 straight from 1995-2008, before the Dodgers took three in a row in 2009, '10 and '11.
Last year, Ames held off Fort Dodge, 38-28. Stover threw for a school-record 362 yards in the losing effort. Straub had 322 yards to pace the Little Cyclones.
The Dodgers will take on Des Moines North (0-4) next week for their Homecoming game.