Dodgers fall in finale

By ERIC PRATT

sports@messengernews.net

PLEASANT HILL – Matt Miller wanted his Fort Dodge football team to make the most of their final game against Southeast Polk here on Friday.

Though the request was easier said than done given the circumstances, the Dodgers still showed the effort their head coach was looking for as the 2016 campaign officially came to an end.

The Rams ended Fort Dodge’s year on their home field for the third consecutive season, rolling to a 52-22 victory to put the finishing touches on a Class 4A, District 4 runner-up finish and another playoff berth.

Five consecutive touchdowns in a 12-minute first half span made an early 14-14 tie nothing more than a distant memory, as Southeast Polk (5-4 overall, 4-1 in the district) flexed its muscle and quickly wore down the Dodgers (4-5, 1-4).

Impressive freshman running back Gavin Williams had 118 yards and three touchdowns before the intermission, while junior quarterback Shane Starcevich tossed four TD passes during that same period of time for the Rams.

“Our kids played hard. This wasn’t an intensity issue,” Miller said. “They competed. We looked solid and did some really nice things in the first quarter. But we couldn’t get things done up front; they were bigger, stronger and a whole lot deeper than us, and it showed as the game wore on.”

Fort Dodge marched 79 yards in its opening possession, capped by a 7-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Drake Miller to junior tailback Joe Artis. The Rams responded with a pair of scores to take the lead, but junior Damond Lockner returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards — believed to be the longest kick return in school history — pulled the Dodgers back into a 14-14 tie.

It was all SEP from there, however, as Fort Dodge didn’t find the end zone again until the contest’s final drive.

The Rams racked up 306 yards, 16 first downs and seven touchdowns by halftime, ensuring that the third quarter would start with a continuous clock. The Dodgers allowed only three points and 54 yards the rest of the way, but the outcome was never in doubt.

Miller tossed a 9-yard scoring strike to senior Jonathan Bowser with 24 seconds left to end things on a positive note for FDSH.

“We were obviously frustrated by how things went (last night) and over the last three weeks,” Miller said, referring to the Dodgers’ three-game slide following a 4-2 start to the season. “I wanted the game to end with something that we could take with us — both our seniors playing their last game, and all of the kids we have coming back.

“Our guys didn’t quit. I’m proud of them. We dealt with a lot of injuries, and frankly, just weren’t consistent enough in our execution down the stretch of the year. But we weren’t sulking or not working.”

Junior Aaron Porter recovered a fumble, and junior Richard Davis did the same following an on-side kick attempt by the Dodgers to start the third quarter. Senior Keaton Jones had punts of 49 and 40 yards in his first attempts of the season.

Junior Trey Mosley became the school’s career leader for receptions on Friday, with 10 more catches for 68 yards. Mosley passed recently-graduated Sam Kolacia, who hauled in 82 balls in 2014 and ’15 combined.

Fort Dodge, which defeated Sioux City North, Mason City, Ames and Newton, will have as many as 17 starters back in 2017. For now, though, Miller wanted to strictly focus on his 15 seniors.

“It was good to see Bowser get that touchdown catch at the end; he’s had a terrific senior year,” Miller said. “(Linebacker) Keaton Dornath made some nice plays. Jones had two really solid punts.

“I have to thank all of them. It’s obviously not a big group, but they put in so much time and committed themselves to our program for four full years, and really, even longer than that. It’s always hard to say goodbye to your seniors. They represented themselves as Dodgers both on and off the field. They’ll always be family.”