Dodgers travel to Indianola

INDIANOLA — Fort Dodge and Indianola have taken different routes to similar results at this point in the football season.

The Dodgers and Indians square off with one more thing in common here Friday: the opportunity to secure a winning campaign and keeps flickering playoff dreams alive.

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

While Fort Dodge (4-3 overall, 1-2 in Class 4A, District 4) is more apt to put the ball in the air and lean on its offense to pull the team through, Indianola (4-3, 1-2) has been more run-oriented and defensive-minded. The Dodgers have scored seven touchdowns or more in a game on five different occasions and thrown for nearly 2,000 yards; the Indians have allowed more than 30 points only twice, and churned out 50 more plays from scrimmage on the ground than head coach Matt Miller’s squad through the first seven weeks.

“They’re a solid football team,” Miller said. “They establish the run, they have a good back in (Dylan) Hildreth (910 yards, 13 touchdowns), and they have four linemen back (from last fall).

“They’re not one-dimensional — (two-year starting quarterback Joe) Jensen can throw the ball when he needs to — but they’re tough up front and will try to establish themselves there first.”

After a 3-0 start to 2017, which included lopsided victories over Norwalk and Ottumwa and a 35-32 triumph over Des Moines Hoover, Indianola hit the physical point in its schedule. The Indians have dropped three of four, with setbacks against Ankeny, Southeast Polk and West Des Moines Valley.

“From a (resume standpoint), they’ve had a similar season to us,” Miller said. “The way they got there has been different, but we’re in the same boat now, having to win our last two games to have a shot (at the postseason).”

Fort Dodge, which defeated Marshalltown last Saturday 49-12 in its delayed Homecoming contest, has won at least four games in four consecutive years for the first time since 1976-79 — and only the second such stretch since 1952. A win on Friday would mark the program’s fifth winning season in the last nine years.

The Dodgers are 21-15 since 2014.

Junior quarterback Drake Miller has been as efficient as any signal caller in Class 4A, with 1,912 passing yards and 25 touchdowns. The 200-pound left-hander has been intercepted only once in 188 attempts, and is already tied with all-time FDSH great Randy Reiners for career TD tosses in 13 less games played than Reiners.

Senior wingback Trey Mosley ranks in the Top-5 for 4A in receptions (46), yardage (765) and touchdowns (8). Classmate Tyrnan Lara (28-433-8) has also put up impressive numbers.

Coach Miller said the Dodgers’ ability to establish a ground game — and more specifically, get the ball in freshman tailback Dayson Clayton’s hands — will be critical to their chances, though.

“Again, the more balanced we are, the tougher we are to defend,” Miller said. “We need to put together some sustainable drives and give our defense a chance to rest, and we need to get Dayson more involved than he was (last Saturday).

“Our defense has been on the field quite a bit this year, mostly because the (scoring drives) we’ve had are often of the (quick-strike variety).”

Fort Dodge ranks fourth in 4A for scoring, third in passing yards, and eighth in total offense. The 309 points scored is already the fifth-best single-season total in program history.

Jensen has thrown for 953 yards and eight touchdowns, completing over 56 percent of his passes. Cole Scott (15 receptions, 196 yards, 4 TDs) is Indianola’s leading receiver.

The Indians dropped 2014 and ’15 decisions to FDSH, but won last season inside Dodger Stadium after rallying from an early 14-0 deficit, 27-20.

“I’m expecting another very competitive football game, which is the way it’s been (in the series recently),” Miller said. “It will be a 48-minute fight. This is the last time their seniors will play at home, so I’m sure they’ll be motivated.

“I just want to see us give it our best shot. Win or lose in these next two weeks, our goal is to walk off the field feeling like we did as much as possible and put ourselves in a position to succeed.”

Third-ranked Valley (6-1, 3-0) leads District 4, followed by Southeast Polk (4-3, 2-1) and Newton (6-1, 2-1). A Dodger win on Friday could potentially set up a Week 9 home showdown with the Rams for the runner-up spot in the district and a playoff berth.