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Dodgers in focused Homecoming mood

Seventh-ranked Fort Dodge trying to end a three-game program skid against Indianola

Messenger photo by Britt Kudla Tysen Kershaw of Fort Dodge makes a catch for a touchdown at Ames last Friday.

Matt Miller always reminds his players to keep the main thing the main thing.

That advice rings especially true this week for the Fort Dodge football team, both because of the environment and — more importantly — the opponent.

The seventh-ranked (Class 4A) Dodgers welcome Indianola to town for their 2019 Homecoming contest. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.

Miller’s squads haven’t had much luck with the Indians of late. Even though FDSH (2-0 overall) has been gradually ascending over the last decade as a program, Indianola (1-1) has reeled off three consecutive victories in as many years by a combined 16 points.

The last two setbacks against the Indians have been on the road and happened in particularly heartbtreaking, last-second fashion.

“I keep reminding our guys that we have to just keep staying true to who we are and worry about ourselves,” Miller said. “I don’t think we’ve always done that in the past when we’ve played (the Indians). They’ve forced us away from our gameplan some and deserve the credit for that.

“It sounds simple, but it really is about how we handle ourselves execution-wise. We have to be fundamentally sound, we have to establish the run, and we have to tackle well. Those are things we’ve let get away from us a little in those (prior Indianola losses).”

Homecoming week tends to provide its own share of distractions, but Miller has found a way to keep his Dodgers focused on football through all of the extra-curricular activity. Fort Dodge owns an 11-4 Homecoming record during Miller’s tenure, with wins in six consecutive seasons.

The Dodger program is 14-5 in Homecoming games since 2000.

“The kids have done a great job of prioritizing and being mature about handling (the week) the right way (through the years),” Miller said. “I don’t anticipate it being any different with this group. They know what’s riding on this, they know how important every game is, and they know they have to take care of business on the field first — otherwise, it makes for a long weekend.”

Fort Dodge has ripped through Mason City and Ames like a chainsaw through butter, posting 65-0 and 42-7 wins to start the year. Senior quarterback Asle Thorson has passed for 459 yards and six touchdowns, adding 107 yards and three scores on the ground. Junior tailback Dayson Clayton (20 rushes, 196 yards, three TDs) is averaging almost 10 yards per carry.

Five different receivers have scored, and four have at least 80 yards.

“When we beat (the Indians) in 2014 and ’15, we had over over 700 yards of (total rushing),” Miller said. “But we’ve gotten away from that big-time since then against them. It has to be a more concerted effort this time around.

“We’ve kept things balanced so far, which is always a key to success. So it needs to continue (on Friday) especially, because Indianola is always a physical program that sticks to what they know under (veteran) Coach (Eric) Kluver.”

The news isn’t all good for the Dodgers, who lost their second lineman to injury and will be short-handed in the trenches this week. Already without projected starter Jace Ulrich, a 215-pound sophomore, Miller confirmed 225-pound junior Sawyer Springer — a two-way regular on the line — will likely miss a few weeks.

The Indians opened their campaign with a 26-3 loss against Norwalk, but bounced back in a big way last Friday with a 35-7 win over Des Moines Hoover. Indianola was 6-4 and a playoff qualifier in 2018.

Standout tailback Kael Kolarik has rushed for 311 yards on just 32 carries, while also catching eight balls for 94 yards. Kolarik ranks second overall in total rushing and receiving yards so far for Class 4A.

“He’s a tough, hard-nosed ballplayer,” Miller said. “And they have some big, experienced kids up front. They have more than a dozen regulars back from their playoff team (of a year ago). This is going to be a challenge.”