Former Dodgers revisit program’s last UNI-Dome game

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla The UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls, home of the University of Northern Iowa Panthers and the Iowa high school football championships, will host Fort Dodge’s season-opening football game against Cedar Falls this Friday night.

CEDAR FALLS — Former Fort Dodge football players shook the dust off their scrapbooks and took a trip down memory lane this week to recount the program’s last game experience inside the UNI-Dome over a quarter-century ago.

For the first time since 1991, the Dodgers will play on the home field of both the University of Northern Iowa Panthers and the high school state championships this Friday night. Head coach Matt Miller’s squad faces the Tigers in their season opener, with kickoff set for 7:15 p.m.

Current Dodgers would love to see history repeat itself. Fort Dodge defeated Cedar Falls on Sept. 26 of that season, 28-12, for its first win after four consecutive losses to start the year.

”I remember talking to teammates about how cool it was to play on the turf in the Dome,” said FDSH linebacker Craig Twigg, a senior on that squad and third team all-state selection. ”It felt like everything was in fast forward; all of the players were faster, and the sounds of the game were so much more intense.

”There was nothing better than sacking the quarterback or scoring a touchdown in that type of atmosphere and in front of a big crowd. It was priceless.”

Star quarterback Antonio Love, who died in 2012, shattered nearly every school passing record that year. Against Cedar Falls, he completed 19 of 27 attempts for 210 yards. Love hit paydirt twice on the ground, and found Kyle Johnson in the end zone for another score.

”I just remember our (passing attack) burning (former FDSH quarterback and then-Cedar Falls assistant) Willie Thornton’s secondary,” laughed Johnson, a senior all-Big 8 receiver. ”It made us feel special to be on a college field where the (state finals were played). I remember going to the Dome as a younger kid a few times with Sharon Moser (Johnson’s neighbor and the wife of Dodger head coach Sam Moser), so it wasn’t new to me, but being on the field as a player was a whole different experience.

”We were so hyped up that night. It was a lot of fun. It felt like you were playing in the Super Bowl.”

FDSH junior receiver and defensive back Alonzo Clayton, who would later call the UNI-Dome home during a collegiate career with the Panthers, said, ”being a step faster on that turf and (in an indoor environment) helps more than people think.

”Not having to worry about weather or anything else (about the condition of the field) was great back then,” added Clayton, who intercepted two passes against the Tigers in the victory.

”It was such a change from the two or three inches of grass you were used to seeing (at other venues),” said all-state defensive back Darin Astor, who also reminded current players to ”tape those ankles and wear elbow pads.”

”It was so much easier to function properly (at the UNI-Dome),” Astor said. ”I remember thinking that both when we played there as sophomores (in 1989), and again in (’91). Plus, the environment was just completely different compared to anything else we were used to. We were really fortunate to be playing at a Div. I-AA facility.”

Fort Dodge led 14-0 at halftime, and added a pair of fourth-quarter scores after Cedar Falls had pulled within 14-12. Gerald Dillard had the final TD with just over three minutes remaining in regulation.

”I remember being able to just cut on a dime on that field. You felt so much faster,” said defensive lineman Mike Licht, whose son, Triston, will start on both sides of the ball this Friday as a junior offensive lineman and linebacker. ”That seems like so long ago. Every game was exciting, especially because it was my senior year.

”When I talk to my son and his friends now, it’s more about playing hard and playing together on every down than the opponent or (the venue). Take care of yourself and what you can control first.”

Johnson echoed those sentiments.

”You want to make Fort Dodge proud,” said Johnson, who is now the Southeast Valley boys basketball coach. ”Have fun and make the most of it, not just (in the UNI-Dome), but every week. Appreciate playing where you get to play (at the Class 4A level).

”I remember Coach Moser and (then-assistant and now head) Coach Miller always saying we maybe weren’t the biggest or fastest team, but we were going to hit hard and make (the opponent) remember us.”

The 1991 campaign marked the final season of the Big 8 Conference, which was in the process of disbanding after 58 years. The Dodgers and Tigers saw their long-standing series — which included meetings every fall from 1961 through ’91 — discontinued.

Fort Dodge and Cedar Falls met last fall inside Dodger Stadium to end the hiatus.