Fort Dodge meets Carroll for 1st time

-Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Tysen Kershaw of Fort Dodge scores a touchdown against Ames on Friday inside Dodgers Stadium

Fort Dodge Senior High’s gridiron history books date back to the dawn of the 20th century.

Carroll has fielded a team since before the Great Depression.

Yet for the first time here Friday, the Dodgers and Tigers will meet on a football field.

Varsity game time is set for 7:30 p.m.

Head coach Matt Miller’s squad looks to rebound from last week’s disheartening loss at Indianola and lick its wounds at home against Carroll (1-2 overall), a new non-district opponent and traditional Class 3A playoff staple. Fort Dodge is still 2-1 with its long-term goals intact, but Miller admits the team’s margin for error has diminished and a new sense of urgency is imperative.

“We have to come ready to play,” Miller said. “There’s no room or time to feel sorry for ourselves (after a 27-21 setback against the Indians last Friday). We can’t do anything about yesterday.

“This is a playoff-level program who I’m sure will be extra motivated by (the incentive of) facing a 4A (opponent). It’s a scary game if we aren’t physically or mentally prepared. We have to be better and sharper than we were (at Indianola) start to finish.”

Carroll qualified for 11 consecutive postseason fields from 2006-16, reaching the state quarterfinals three times and the semifinals once. The Tigers won at least 10 games on four different occasions during that stretch, and went 89-33 overall.

They were 4-5 a year ago, which was just their third losing season since 1994.

The Dodgers haven’t squared off with a non-4A program in nearly 30 years, though proportionately speaking, FDSH is closer in student enrollment to Carroll than schools like West Des Moines Valley and Waukee. The new RPI-driven playoff format does not reward or penalize cross-class matchups, making games like this much more common in 2018.

“I think this was kind of a surprise to (both programs) when the schedules came out, but we’re looking forward to a different opportunity and a different challenge,” Miller said. “It’s really interesting that our paths have never crossed before, given they’ve had a team for nearly 100 years and we’ve been around for (over a century).

“They’re big up front. Really big. Their quarterback and receivers are tall and athletic. They’ll spread things out offensively and do a lot of power read.”

The Tigers defeated Ballard (2-1) on the road, sandwiched in between home losses to Glenwood (2-1) and Harlan (2-1).

The Dodgers’ aerial assault on the record books continued last week against Indianola, as all-state senior quarterback Drake Miller threw for 374 yards. Miller now leads the entire state in passing with 1,225 yards – a whopping 260 ahead of the next-highest total.

Junior receiver Tysen Kershaw is also Iowa’s all-class leader in receptions (34) and yards (601).

Even so, Matt Miller was “disappointed” by what happened against the Indians offensively.

“We got imbalanced,” Miller said. “You can’t drop back 50 to 60 times a game and throw. We have to be able to establish the run and keep (opposing defenses) guessing. If we’re going to be one-dimensional like that, our offense won’t even scratch the surface of its potential.”

Miller has moved into the state’s all-time Top-40 for career completions (408, 32nd), yards (5,353, 38th) and touchdowns (55, 40th).

The FDSH defense continues to hold its own yardage-wise, bottling up Indianola (256 total yards) and allowing less than three net yards per carry overall through the first three weeks. The Dodgers didn’t force a single turnover against the Indians, though, and a critical special-teams breakdown on a punt set up what proved to be the winning score.

“Our special teams need work,” Miller admitted. “It’s just a matter of improving in all phases of the game. We let an opportunity slip away (last week), but we could have been better. Much better. And that’s the important step we have to take (against Carroll).

“We were snapped back to reality (after cracking the Top-10 of the rankings), and now we have to fight our way back.”

Along with a series history against nearly every school from both the immediate and surrounding areas, the Dodgers did face Carroll Kuemper a number of times in the 1960s. Carroll has been a common opponent through the years in other sports for FDSH, but Friday will mark a first on the gridiron.