-Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Drake Miller of Fort Dodge throws a touchdown to Tyrnan Lara against Ames on Friday

Football fans will see Fort Dodge’s thrilling, rapid-fire 62-52 victory over Ames and assume the Dodgers prevailed in spite of their defense.

Head coach Matt Miller would argue his squad pulled through because of it.

In arguably the most entertaining game ever witnessed at 77-year-old Dodger Stadium, Fort Dodge scored 28 of the last 35 points and was the last team standing in a 1,222-yard, 16-touchdown rollercoaster ride.

On the eve of his 17th birthday, junior quarterback Drake Miller eclipsed his record-breaking performance of just two weeks ago with an encore for the ages. Fourteen days after throwing for 407 yards and seven TDs in a rout of Sioux City North, Miller racked up 439 yards and seven scores as the Dodgers (3-1 overall) ran circles around the Little Cyclones (2-2) down the stretch despite being down a handful of starters and 11 points midway through the third quarter.

Senior receiver Tyrnan Lara caught a career-high nine passes for 167 yards and three of Miller’s touchdowns, while throwing for one as well. And freshman tailback Dayson Clayton accumulated 240 yards from scrimmage — 127 receiving and 113 more on the ground — as Fort Dodge finished with a program-record 613 yards of total offense.

Yet it was the patchwork defense — the Dodgers are missing five regulars from their Week 1 starting lineup — that turned the tide when it mattered most.

”We knew that we could keep scoring if we could just get a couple of stops,” Lara said. ”And then, the defense did. And it happened again. And again. And again.

”Our offense is diverse and dynamic. But we can’t win games like these without the ‘D’ doing what it did in that third and fourth quarter. It went from us making big plays (offensively) to everyone making big plays. And we were just feeding off each other.”

Ames’ first eight possessions resulted in six touchdowns and a field goal, with Fort Dodge managing only one stop. From the four-minute mark in the third quarter on, though, the Dodgers ended consecutive Little Cyclone drives with a fumble recovery, an interception, another fumble recovery and a punt.

With FDSH’s offense in a zone, Miller’s team responded by reeling off 28 consecutive points to go from being on the ropes to delivering a knockout punch.

”I’ve been proud of a lot of my teams through the years for things they’ve done, and I’ve seen a lot of crazy games in this stadium, but this one has to be right at the top,” Miller said. ”My guys showed guts and they showed heart. They’re playing sick. They’re playing in different spots to fill in for others who aren’t on the field for us right now. They’ve dealt with a lot of adversity. Yet look at that scoreboard. Wow.

”Our offense was terrific, which goes without saying. But our defense really helped turn the tide and win this football game. We came up with some big plays and created some huge turnovers. I’d say our fans got their money’s worth with this one. It was a lot of fun, and us coaches were lucky to have a front-row seat. If you were there, you’ll always remember it.”

Miller completed 31 of his 38 passes with pinpoint accuracy. The left-hander’s favorite targets were Lara and senior Trey Mosley (10 catches for 65 yards), though a trio of underclassmen — sophomore Tysen Kershaw, sophomore Brycen Bell and Clayton — all hit home runs in pivotal moments on the receiving end of Miller throws.

Despite being sick earlier in the week and missing two days of practice, Miller pushed through and admitted afterward, ”this makes me feel a lot better.”

”We really came together and showed who we are and what we’re about,” said Miller, who again tied the Class 4A all-time single-game mark with his seven TD tosses. ”It was a game of runs, but we never panicked and the defense did some amazing things when we needed them most.

”Our receivers were great. Our offensive line was great. Dayson and Savion (Poe) ran great. We knew we could put up some points, and we had a lot of things working for us, but it had to be about all of us if we were going to (come back). And it was. I love this team.”

Lara hit Mosley on a wingback pass for a 32-yard score to cap the Dodgers’ opening possession, and the old conference rivals were off to the races. Ames senior Joe Evans answered almost immediately with an 82-yard touchdown run — one of several long quarterback keepers for the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Evans — and the squads traded punches all the way until halftime.

In the last 1:01 of the first half, Miller hit Clayton for a 56-yard TD, Evans responded with a 65-yard scramble to set up a short scoring pass 25 seconds later, and the Dodgers answered back on a 36-yard Hail Mary bomb from Miller to Lara as time expired.

Evans rushed for 213 yards on just 10 totes before intermission alone, as Ames racked up 309 yards of total offense. Miller, meanwhile, was 22 of 24 for 240 yards and four TDs in the first half. Fort Dodge led 34-31 at the break.

For as elusive as Evans was early on, the Dodger defense started to solve the riddle at crunch time. Evans did throw for 133 of his 181 yards in the second half, but managed only 25 more yards on the ground. Senior tailback Martrell Davis added 201 rushing yards of his own.

Senior Mitch Glass and junior Mason Bodholdt recovered Evans fumbles, and Bell intercepted a pass in the end zone. Senior Luke Jacobson, juniors Bryer Nelson and Ethan Vinson, and sophomore Austin Lee also came up with huge defensive efforts to slow the Little Cyclones down just enough.

”We got some big plays from Mitch, Mason, Luke, Brycen, Bryer, Ethan, Austin — I could just go right down the line. and a lot of these guys weren’t seeing the field much at the start of the year,” Miller said. ”Also, I want to make sure (senior lineman) Dakota Stenzel gets his due. He was going both ways up front and barely came out for a play. It was hot (83 degrees and breezy at kickoff), but we got our second wind and just gutted it out.

”Drake made some great throws. Tyrnan was just outstanding. Both of those guys have been sick and trying to get through (to Friday); they were running temperatures over 100 degrees (mid-week). Our offensive line continues to get better and mature. And we could have something really special on our hands with Dayson, too. He’s growing up every week and taking it all in stride. It’s really hard to single everyone out, because this was something we did collectively. It took all of our players and all of our coaches to outlast a very good football team.”

Fort Dodge, which has now scored 165 points in the last three games combined, welcomes fourth-ranked West Des Moines Valley to Dodger Stadium for their District 4 opener on Friday. The Tigers knocked off No. 3 Johnston last night, 27-14.

”We’re taking on anything that comes our way,” Lara said. ”We’ll keep fighting. We’ll never stop fighting.”

FD A First downs 22 23

Rushes-yards 33-142 41-428

Passing 32-39-0 17-31-1

Passing yards 471 181

Total offense 613 609

Punts-Avg. 6-23.0 3-35.0

Fumbles-Lost 0-0 5-2

Penalties-Yards 4-35 8-60

FDSH 14 20 14 14–62

Ames 14 17 14 7–52

Scoring Summary

Fort Dodge — Trey Mosley (32-yard pass from Tyrnan Lara), 8:20 left first quarter. Run failed.

Ames — Joe Evans (82-yard run), 7:57 left first. Josiah Engelken kick.

Fort Dodge — Brycen Bell (58-yard pass from Drake Miller), 2:38 left first. Mosley to Lara.

Ames — Evans (15-yard run), 0:00 left first. Engelken kick.

Ames — Engelken (24-yard field goal), 7:47 left second.

Fort Dodge — Lara (16-yard pass from Miller), 4:35 left second. Kick failed.

Ames — Martrell Davis (5-yard run), 2:36 left second. Engelken kick.

Fort Dodge — Clayton (56-yard pass from Miller), 1:01 left second. Pass failed.

Ames — Tynan Shahidi (6-yard pass from Evans), 0:36 left second. Engelken kick.

Fort Dodge — Lara (36-yard pass from Miller), 0:00 left second. Miller to Lara.

Ames — Davis (3-yard run), 9:19 left third. Engelken kick.

Ames — Colton Iiams (16-yard pass from Evans), 6:01 left third. Engelken kick.

Fort Dodge — Miller (3-yard run), 4:12 left third. Run failed.

Fort Dodge — Lara (35-yard pass from Miller), 3:50 left third. Miller to Tysen Kershaw.

Fort Dodge — Kershaw (27-yard pass from Miller), 11:00 left fourth. Ben Nebel kick.

Fort Dodge — Clayton (48-yard pass from Miller), 7:10 left fourth. Nebel kick.

Ames — Will Krapfl (21-yard pass from Evans), 4:58 left fourth. Engelken kick.


RUSHING — Fort Dodge: Dayson Clayton 17-113, Drake Miller 14-18, Savion Poe 2-11. Ames: Joe Evans 18-238, Martrell Davis 21-201, Bernard Bell 1-1.

PASSING — Fort Dodge: Drake Miller 31-38-0-439; Tyrnan Lara 1-1-0-32. Ames: Joe Evans 17-31-1-181.

RECEIVING — Fort Dodge: Tyrnan Lara 9-167, Dayson Clayton 4-127, Trey Mosley 12-81, Brycen Bell 1-58, Tysen Kershaw 4-35, Jace Peterson 2-5. Ames: Tyler Doyle 5-56, Tynan Shahidi 3-39, Will Krapfl 2-35, Colton Iiams 3-28, Martrell Davis 3-18, Tron Smith 1-5.