The Fort Dodge boys soccer team went toe-to-toe with No. 2 (Class 3A) Johnston at Dodger Stadium Tuesday night.
In the end, the Dragons earned a 1-0 victory, but FDSH head coach Pablo Rodriguez was left feeling like his Dodgers had proven something.
"We showed that when we come out with our minds right, we can play with anybody," Rodriguez said. "That is the best team in the state, in my eyes, and we lost 1-0. We battled for 80 minutes with them and we frustrated them.
"They showed just how frustrated they were by getting two yellow cards late when our defense kept stopping them. Our kids should be very proud of their effort because I am."
Johnston (15-0 overall) finished third at state last year and entered the night having scored 57 goals on the season. Only an Elvir Ibisevic shot in the 18th minute got past Dodger (4-11) keeper Ethan Schwendemann, and that came off a deflection of a save.
Ibisevic, who netted his 17th goal of the season, was one of the two Johnston players hit with a yellow card.
"There have been times this year when we didn't play to our potential," Rodriguez said. "This was not one of those nights. Ethan, I've said it all year, but he just had an incredible performance. And Alex Jackson won all of his battles for the ball.
"All the kids just did an outstanding job. Now, we need to finish up strong on Friday and carry over this performance into the substate round."
Schwendemann finished with 15 saves, while the Fort Dodge defense denied several more would-be scoring chances.
Prior to the opening kick, seniors Tim Barton and Parker Huebsch were honored. Huebsch has been a four-year member of the team, while Barton came out for his final season.
"Parker has grown so much from his freshman year to now," Rodriguez said. "He was selected a captain this year and he has had an incredible senior season.
"Tim was a first-year player, but he had the right attitude and drive in practice and in games. Both of them have meant a lot to our team."
Of Fort Dodge's 11 losses this season, five have been by one goal, including matches against No. 8 (1A) Waterloo Columbus and second-ranked (2A) Spencer. The Dodgers have played eight teams ranked in the state, defeating No. 10 (2A) Hudson over the weekend.
"We've seen many good teams and playing the schedule we have, that has us ready for the postseason," Rodriguez said. "Our kids see now that we can play with anybody and compete."
Fort Dodge closes out its regular season Friday at Ames (8-3).