Fort Dodge looks to wrap up playoff berth

-Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Fort Dodge will travel to Marshalltown on Friday night.

MARSHALLTOWN — At this point in the year, football teams are either still looking forward or getting ready to move on.

No. 10 (Class 4A) Fort Dodge has earned the right to start planning for the postseason. Seeding and locations are being discussed for next Friday, as the program will almost assuredly return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015 regardless of what happens on Friday night at Marshalltown.

Before the Dodgers (6-2 overall, 3-1 in 4A, District 2) take that step, though, all of their energy will be poured into the matchup on Leonard Cole Field against the Bobcats (4-4, 1-3) — a long-time program rival trying to finish with a winning campaign of their own.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

“It’s great to be sitting here in Week 9 and have everything that we talked about before Week 1 still in front of us,” FDSH head coach Matt Miller said. “The guys are engaged and excited for Marshalltown. There are no surprises here; these kids have been competing against each other since they were in middle school in every sport. Like Mason City, this is a big one for us every year, regardless of what our records are. Throw all that stuff out.

“We’ll talk about the playoffs and everything else when the time comes. Our only priority right now is (the Bobcats).”

The Dodgers have scored 163 points in the last three weeks alone, and are currently on pace to shatter school records for points (42.6) and yards (472.4) per game — both established in 2015 (41.8 and 457.0, respectively). All-state senior quarterback Drake Miller is 56 of 85 for 823 yards and 12 touchdowns during that stretch.

Miller broke his own 2017 FDSH mark for single-season passing yards last week, and has moved into the Top-20 all-time in Iowa for career completions (503, 12th), TDs (70, 18th) and yards (6,612, 20th). In last week’s 68-13 rout of Sioux City West, Miller had at least four scoring passes in a game for the 10th different time in his career.

Junior receiver Tysen Kershaw became the single-season leader for receiving yards (985), eclipsing Trey Mosley’s total (923) from a year ago as well. Sophomore tailback Dayson Clayton has accumulated 1,230 yards from scrimmage — 906 on the ground and 324 through the air.

The defense, meanwhile, held the Wolverines under 100 yards and has helped to create a plus-five turnover margin on the year. Junior safety Asle Thorson had his third interception last week.

“I really feel like we’re just scratching the surface on our potential as a team,” Miller said. “For as many points and yards as we’ve put up, our offense can still do so much more. And the defense is just rounding into form.

“To see what guys like Asle, (senior) Bryer (Nelson), (juniors) Austin (Lee), Shane (Halligan), Levi (Egli), Bryson (Opande) and all of the others are starting to do together defensively … hopefully, we still have our best football ahead of us. We had a great practice (on Wednesday) and we’re really zoned in on (what lies ahead).”

Fort Dodge is currently 10th in the RPI rankings, which will steer the postseason pairings. The top seven district champions and one at-large team will receive first-round home assignments next Friday; the Dodgers are a long shot for that wild-card home berth, but it’s not out of the question.

Playoff qualifiers will be announced at around midnight on Friday, with brackets released by the IHSAA sometime on Saturday morning.

Fort Dodge is trying to secure at least seven regular-season wins for just the seventh time in the last 67 years. Three Dodger squads — in 2009, ’10 and ’15 — have done so in the last decade alone.

Miller’s teams have taken four of five overall from Marshalltown, narrowing the Bobcats’ all-time series edge to 26-23-1. The programs have squared off in all but one season since becoming conference rivals in 1967.

MHS did take the last meeting at Cole Field two years ago, 34-7.