Dodgers hit the road

-Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Drake Miller of Fort Dodge throws a touchdown to Tyrnan Lara against Ames on Friday

SIOUX CITY — The high school football playoffs officially kick off later this month.

For all intents and purposes, Fort Dodge’s postseason run needs to start now.

The Dodgers (5-2 overall, 2-1 in Class 4A, District 2) head to Elwood Olsen Stadium for a game against Sioux City West (2-5, 0-3) on Friday at 7 p.m. It’s the first leg in a two-week road series that will determine the fate of FDSH’s future beyond Week 9.

A win over either the Wolverines or Marshalltown (4-3, 1-2) would all but assure the Dodgers of an at-large playoff spot. A sweep could possibly earn head coach Matt Miller’s squad a first-round playoff game inside Dodger Stadium on Oct. 26.

“We still have everything in front of us,” Miller said of his team, which was impressive a week ago despite ultimately suffering a 49-44 setback against No. 3 Ankeny Centennial. “We have to ramp up our sense of urgency and be ready to roll these next two weeks. We don’t want to leave any doubt or put ourselves in a position where we’re relying on other teams to (clear up the postseason picture) for us.

“As I’ve said before, we’re not good enough to just show up and go through the motions. We have to hit the ground running these next two weeks and take care of business. Our playoffs are here.”

Fort Dodge brings Class 4A’s top passing and overall offense into its matchup with West, which has dropped four consecutive contests since a 2-1 start. The Dodgers have scored 95 points in the last two weeks alone, and are averaging 471.8 yards per game – at the moment, better than the school-record 456.8 in 2015.

Senior quarterback Drake Miller has 2,278 yards passing, which is just 62 yards shy of the FDSH single-season mark he established just last year. Junior receiver Tysen Kershaw has accumulated 881 receiving yards – like Miller, the best total in the state – and sits only 43 yards shy of Trey Mosley’s school record of 924, also from 2017.

Sophomore tailback Dayson Clayton has eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau for total offense, with 749 rushing yards and 328 receiving.

The Wolverines have a talented senior signal-caller of their own in 6-foot-4 Adien Belt, who has passed for 1,181 yards and rushed for 543 more.

“He’s a playmaker,” Miller said of Belt. “When you’re still averaging around 250 yards of total offense this late into the season … he’s going to be a challenge for our defense. They do some things really well, and we’ll have to try and contain them in the open field.”

Alec Nieman – like Belt, a 6-4 senior – has 421 receiving yards and six scores. Tailback Emanuel Tameklo has rushed for 335 yards and also has 16 receptions for 241 yards.

West has beaten Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson and Sioux City North, while giving Sioux City East, Sioux City Heelan and Des Moines Roosevelt all they could handle before coming up short.

“We’re battling some things right now, which is what happens when you reach mid-October,” Miller said. “We have guys who are banged up and guys who are sick. We haven’t had a full practice in a while.

“This trip (to Sioux City) is always a long one, and we have to make sure we handle it the right way. We can’t come out sluggish or not ready to play. This is a big week. Next (Friday) will be a big one, too. It’s really important than we finish up strong and keep getting better, so that we control our own future and take the guessing game out of the equation.”

Fort Dodge is currently 11th in the IHSAA’s RPI rankings, which will help determine playoff matchups later this month. There will be 16 state qualifiers in the 4A field, which means the Dodgers must climb to No. 8 in order to host a first-round game.

Centennial, which escaped its trip to Fort Dodge last Friday, remains No. 1. Cedar Falls and West Des Moines Valley – the only other unbeaten squads left in 4A after the 7-0 Jaguars – are next in line.