FIGHT TO THE FINISH

Dodgers go the distance with powerful Jags

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Dayson Clayton of Fort Dodge gains a first down against Ankeny Centennial on Friday inside Dodger Stadium. For more photos, please visit CU.messengernews.net

It wasn’t a win, which is virtually all that matters on paper in the bottom-line world of football.

Almost.

Looks of anger and frustration said it all as Fort Dodge players walked off the field following their 49-44 loss to No. 3 (Class 4A) Ankeny Centennial inside Dodger Stadium on Friday. Head coach Matt Miller’s squad wasn’t trying to simply compete or keep the score respectable against the mighty Jaguars.

FDSH desperately craved a signature triumph over a highly-ranked opponent — something the program hasn’t accomplished in well over 30 years. When the critical late break didn’t come — despite another heart-stopping rally in the fourth quarter — the Dodgers headed toward the locker room feeling like they’d let a golden opportunity slip away.

It was the indignation Miller was hoping to see: that in defeat, his team had gained even more of a confidence and belief that they could, in his words, “be right there with the big boys.”

No, it wasn’t a win. But it could end up being more than that in the long run.

The unbeaten Jaguars (7-0 overall, 3-0 Class 4A, District 2) scrambled to recover an on-side kick — a tentative sequence of events that could have easily gone the Dodgers’ way — in order to run out the clock and finally shake FDSH (5-2, 2-1) in what became an instant classic.

“We heard a lot of ‘great jobs’ and ‘hell of an effort’ (from supporters), and I couldn’t agree more,” Miller said. “It was one of the gutsiest and most resilient (performances) I’ve seen from our program. But we’re not in this for moral victories or pats on the back. And what I saw in the kids’ eyes afterward … they’re on the same page. They believe in each other and they want it.

“I’m damn proud of them. What more can you say. We left it all out there; that’s what a fight for a district championship should look like. We’re not satisfied with being good but not quite good enough, though. And that’s something important to take away from this. If you’re going to beat us, you better give it your all, because that’s what this group is going to do.”

Miller’s offense hung 44 points and 543 yards on Centennial, which was the top defensive unit in the state before Friday. The Dodgers scored 13 more points than the Jags had surrendered in their first six games combined, and finished with 25 first downs.

Senior quarterback Drake Miller — already the top passer in 4A — was at his best last night, completing 30 of 45 passes for 350 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 75 yards and a pair of scores. Sophomore Dayson Clayton accumulated 194 yards from scrimmage — 104 rushing and 90 passing — and junior receiver Tysen Kershaw had nine receptions for 156 yards and two TDs.

Fort Dodge simply couldn’t stop Centennial on the ground, however. The Jags racked up 258 of their 407 rushing yards in the second half, and 17 of their 26 first downs. Making the attack even more difficult to contain was senior quarterback Garret Severseike, who completed 6 of 7 passes for 213 yards — with five strikes going for more than 20 yards.

“I know it’s going to sound strange given we gave up 49 points, but our defense really fought hard,” Miller said. “They battled and battled. (The Jaguars) were an impressive downhill offense. They were as good as advertised; just so big and athletic up front and deep in the backfield. And when they’re able to throw like that, too…

“There was only so much we could do.”

And yet, there was only so much Centennial could do against the Dodgers.

Leading only 28-20 at the intermission, the Jaguars returned the opening kickoff of the second half back 97 yards for a touchdown. The 15-point advantage appeared insurmountable, especially with Centennial breaking off chunks of yardage at nearly nine yards per carry while draining the clock.

It was 42-27 when senior Ben Nebel booted home a 24-yard field goal late in the third period, and a 10-yard Miller scramble to paydirt after one of FDSH’s three defensive stops made it 42-37 at the 8:17 mark in the fourth.

The Jaguars tried to knock the Dodgers to the canvas for good with a churning 11-play, 87-yard drive — all on the ground — for a score with 3:21 remaining. But the cardiac kids in red and black still had one more comeback in them.

After first-down receptions by Kershaw and Jace Peterson quickly took FDSH past midfield, Miller found Clayton four consecutive times. The final connection came on a 4-yard jump pass from Miller — harkening his inner-Tim Tebow — to Clayton, who had slipped and was actually lying down in the end zone with 1:48 to go.

Nebel then bounced a perfectly-executed on-side kick that Centennial bobbled. Clayton battled a Jaguar for possession in a pile, but the visitors eventually came away with the ball to seal the win.

“It was right there,” Miller said. “We just needed a little more of a bounce one last time.

“This stings, and it should. The end result is not what we wanted, what we were looking for, or what we thought we could accomplish. But I’ll take the heart and toughness of my guys over anyone. We’re not done yet.”

Miller singled out the tenacity of junior lineman Bryson Opande who was on the field for the entire contest both offensively and defensively. Fort Dodge had 69 plays from scrimmage; Centennial ran 53.

“Bryson was out there, fighting for every inch. He was a warrior,” Miller said. “That’s what our program is about, and I’m so proud of him. I’m proud of every single one of them.”

Sophomore speedster Tyler Schreier returned the opening kickoff 91 yards to paydirt for the Dodgers. Junior Austin Lee recovered a fumble, and junior Shane Halligan recorded a sack.

Senior Anthony Wagner booted a 63-yard punt that was downed at the 1-yard line in the first half for FDSH.

Senior Gabe Godwin, a 200-pound bruiser back, had 25 carries for 205 yards for the Jaguars, with 168 of those yards coming in the second half. Junior Avery Gates rushed nine times for 155 yards, slipping through the Dodger defense for a 71-yard score and two other jaunts covering 37 and 36 yards.

Friday marked the final home game of the regular season for Fort Dodge, which visits Sioux City West and Marshalltown to finish the year. Miller doesn’t want to look too far ahead, but he’s hoping that if his squad wins out and goes 7-2, another night inside Dodger Stadium for the 4A playoffs could be a possibility.

“We’re going to keep working and stay focused on the task at hand,” Miller said. “This will be our motivation. We may not be one of the top two or three teams in the state right now, but we’re not far behind. And we’re getting better by the week.”

FD AC

First downs 25 26

Rushes-yards 24-193 46-407

Passing yards 350 213

Comp-Att-Int 30-45-0 6-7-0

Total offense 543 620

Punts-Avg. 1-63.0 1-45.0

Fumbles-Lost 1-1 1-1

Penalties-Yards 13-115 11-143

Centennial 14 14 14 7–49

Fort Dodge 14 6 10 14–44

Scoring Summary

Fort Dodge — Tyler Schreier (91-yard kickoff return), 11:45 left first quarter. Ben Nebel kick.

Centennial — Gabe Godwin (7-yard run), 6:21 left first. Avery Knief kick.

Fort Dodge — Tysen Kershaw (6-yard pass from Drake Miller), 1:55 left first. Nebel kick.

Centennial — Avery Gates (71-yard run), 0:07 left first. Knief kick.

Centennial — Benjamin Breeding (41-yard pass from Garret Severseike), 5:15 left second. Knief kick.

Fort Dodge — Kershaw (66-yard pass from Miller), 3:52 left second. Kick failed.

Centennial — Gates (5-yard run), 3:26 left second. Knief kick.

Centennial — Gates (97-yard kickoff return), 11:42 left third. Knief kick.

Fort Dodge — Miller (1-yard run), 10:16 left third. Nebel kick.

Centennial — Godwin (11-yard run), 6:33 left third. Knief kick.

Fort Dodge — Nebel (24-yard field goal), 4:35 left third.

Fort Dodge — Miller (10-yard run), 8:17 left fourth. Nebel kick.

Centennnial — Godwin (8-yard run), 3:21 left fourth. Knief kick.

Fort Dodge — Clayton (4-yard pass from Miller), 1:48 left fourth. Nebel kick.

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING — Fort Dodge: Dayson Clayton 12-104, Drake Miller 11-75, Brycen Bell 1-14. Centennial: Gabe Godwin 25-205, Avery Gates 9-155, Tyler Cahill 9-36, Keaton Gray 1-15, Garret Severseike 2-(minus-4).

PASSING — Fort Dodge: Drake Miller 30-45-0-350. Centennial: Garret Severseike 6-7-0-213.

RECEIVING — Fort Dodge: Tysen Kershaw 9-156, Dayson Clayton 10-90, Jace Peterson 6-58, Russell Potratz 3-29, Brycen Bell 1-8, Tyler Schreier 1-7. Centennial: Avery Gates 1-75, Benjamin Breeding 2-65, Tyler Cahill 1-35, Zachary Mills 1-21, Dylan DeAngelo 1-17.

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