Football is a physical game at its core, but like every other sport, so much of what happens between the lines is dictated by what goes on inside the mind.
Third-ranked (Class 4A) West Des Moines Valley used its size, strength and speed to distance itself from Fort Dodge here on Friday, turning a rather tenuous 10-point halftime lead into a comfortable 59-14 District 4 victory on a warm, breezy night inside Dodger Stadium.
Head coach Matt Miller knew that as the contest progressed, there was very little his squad could do to keep the Tigers (4-1 overall) caged at the point of attack. With that being said, Miller watched Fort Dodge go from owning the second quarter — and building what appeared to be plenty of confidence along the way — to surrendering an avalanche of third-period touchdowns spearheaded by avoidable special-teams breakdowns.
And once that happened, the Dodgers (3-2) lost whatever edge they’d gained during their late first-half surge.
”You go through highs and lows, whether it’s game to game or drive to drive. That’s football,” Miller said. ”The successful ones don’t let adversity keep them down. The successful ones shake it off and move on when things don’t go their way. That’s what we have to do now, because unfortunately, we didn’t handle that third quarter the way I felt like we could have. We were moving the ball well (in the first half). We got some stops. The (yardage) was basically even. But it’s almost like we didn’t believe we could sustain it — even though we were right there (down 24-14).
”We’re a capable football team, but we have to show that fight and that will all the time. It’s not just about being talented or having physical potential. It’s about showing emotion and effort for the full 48 minutes.”
Valley capitalized on every opportunity in the second half, starting with the opening kickoff. Star tailback Jevon Mason juggled the ball at the 4-yard line — hesitating just long enough for the Dodgers to overpursue — then darted 96 yards for a touchdown to immediately take the wind out of FDSH’s sails. Mason even appeared to step out of bounds around his own 35-yard line, but the play was never ruled over as he continued to tip-toe up the right sideline.
Four minutes later, a high snap on a punt attempt led to a failed run and gave the Tigers a 1st-and-goal at the 4-yard line. When Valley punched in its second touchdown of the period, they had done so gaining only those four yards of net offense on its two scoring possessions.
Suddenly ahead 38-14, the Tigers pinned their ears back defensively and shut down Fort Dodge’s once-effective attack.
”They’re the third-ranked team in the state for a reason, and when you give them what basically amounted to two special-teams scores and another (touchdown after a fumble deep in Dodger territory in the first quarter), that’s about it,” Miller said. ”It’s frustrating, because I know they’re not 45 points better than us. But if you let your guard down or make a mistake against a program like this, they’ll make you pay for it. They’ve done it all year long (in wins over ranked opponents Bettendorf, Waukee and Johnston).”
Valley had 24 points in the first half with 177 yards of total offense. The Tigers’ 35 second-half points actually came with less production from scrimmage at 165 yards, as every touchdown drive started in Dodger territory.
Junior quarterback Drake Miller completed 14 passes for 141 yards before the intermission, but the Tigers ramped up the pressure and stalled FDSH’s offense to the tune of 67 second-half yards and no points. Miller went 3 of 13 and was intercepted for the first time this season after the break.
”They’re very quick and athletic defensively,” Coach Miller said. ”They’ll get after you, especially when they get up by (a comfortable margin). We rattled them a little (with two second-quarter TDs), but they wore us down.
”Having two straight weeks in weather like this (a humid 80 degrees and breezy) with our lack of depth started to kind of take its toll. We’re better than what we showed in that second half, but I know fatigue played a factor in some of (the miscues).”
Fort Dodge, which had only fumbled twice all year and lost the ball just once, put the ball on the turf six times on Friday. The Tigers recovered two of the fumbles.
Senior Trey Mosley caught 10 passes for 122 yards, which included a 30-yard score. Mosley, who was already the program’s career leader for receptions by a wide margin, passed Alonzo Clayton (1,452) on the all-time yardage list as well (1,513).
”Trey had a big night; he’s been a dependable part of our offense for a long time. We’re very proud of him,” Miller said of the three-year starter. ”I thought Bryer (Nelson) and Damond (Lockner) played well (in the secondary). Our pass defense did a nice job (Valley only threw for 131 total yards).”
The Dodgers now hit the road to face unbeaten Newton (5-0) on Friday. The Cardinals topped Marshalltown last night, 49-28.
”We’ve got some big games coming up against physical opponents, starting with Newton,” Miller said. ”There’s no looking back now. We’ll see how we respond. We’ve done it before. Again, that’s what football is all about — going back to work and learning from your mistakes. That’s the only way you get better.”
First downs 12 18
Rushes-yards 29-80 28-211
Passing 17-36-11 14-26-0
Passing yards 157 131
Total offense 237 342
Punts-Avg. 8-29.0 3-35.3
Fumbles-Lost 6-2 0-0
Penalties-Yards 4-35 4-45
Valley 17 7 28 7–59
Fort Dodge 0 14 0 0–14
Valley — Jevon Mason (13-yard run), 8:22 left first quarter. Tinsley Wright kick.
Valley — Cole Peterson (37-yard field goal), 3:04 left first.
Valley — Mason (3-yard run), 1:20 left first. Wright kick.
Fort Dodge — Trey Mosley (30-yard pass from Drake Miller), 10:48 left second. Kick blocked.
Valley — Mason (37-yard run), 9:53 left second. Wright kick.
Fort Dodge — Miller (9-yard run), 8:08 left second. Dayson Clayton run.
Valley — Mason (96-yard kickoff return), 11:42 left third. Wright kick.
Valley — Creighton Mitchell (1-yard run), 7:21 left third. Wright kick.
Valley — Tre Fugate (32-yard pass from Beau Lombardi), 5:51 left third. Wright kick.
Valley — Fugate (16-yard run), 3:29 left third. Wright kick.
Valley — Fugate (5-yard run), 7:15 left fourth. Wright kick.
RUSHING — Fort Dodge: Damond Lockner 1-42, Dayson Clayton 12-40, Asle Thorson 3-20, Drake Miller 4-7, Savion Poe 4-(minus-4), Trey Mosley 1-(minus-4), Team 4-(minus-21). Valley: Jevon Mason 8-90, Tre Fugate 9-63, J.J. Gass 2-26, Creighton Mitchell 6-18, Teagan Ho 2-14, Beau Lombardi 1-0.
PASSING — Fort Dodge: Drake Miller 17-36-1-157, Asle Thorson 0-0-0-0. Valley: Beau Lombardi 11-23-0-112, J.J. Gass 2-2-0-13, Blake Edwards 1-1-0-6.
RECEIVING — Fort Dodge: Trey Mosley 10-122, Tysen Kershaw 4-19, Tyrnan Lara 1-6, Jace Peterson 1-5, Dayson Clayton 1-5. Valley: Tre Fugate 1-32, Jalen Long 2-26, Luke Matney 2-18, Tariq Brown 3-15, Mac McLean 2-13, Ryan Neu 1-11, Creighton Mitchell 2-10, Nicky Trane 1-6.