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PHYSICALLY FIT

—Messenger photos by Britt Kudla Fort Dodge’s Dayson clayton runs the ball against Ames on Friday inside Dodgers Stadium. For more photos, please visit cu.messengernews.net

I remember walking off the Newton high school football field in 2017 and thinking to myself, “I will never see a game like that again.”

Twenty touchdowns. A total of 1,326 yards from scrimmage. A combined 141 points, with Fort Dodge losing to the Cardinals, 71-70 in regulation. The second-highest scoring game in Class 4A history.

There was a certain sense of deja vu to the Dodgers’ 81-54 season-opening victory last Friday night. After all, we saw 1,352 yards, 19 TDs and 135 points – with the potential for more, given FDSH had two scores called back because of penalties, Ames was stopped at the 1-yard line to end the first half, and the Dodgers took a knee in a goal-to-go situation at the end of the contest.

The statistical comparisons to these free-wheeling, scoreboard-busting games only tell a part of the story, though. In fact, new Fort Dodge head coach Nik Moser pointed out a stark contrast in the type of back-and-forth classic we saw at Dodger Stadium relative to the memorable tug-of-war between FDSH and Newton three years ago.

“We were more like Newton (last Friday) in our style than the way we were (in 2017),” Moser said. “When we needed to stop (the Cardinals in the trenches), we couldn’t. When we tried to match them physically, we couldn’t. They ran the ball at will on us, and there just wasn’t anything we could do about it.

“We were on the receiving end of (controlling the line of scrimmage at Newton). It was the other way around (versus Ames), which could be a good sign for us if we keep moving in that direction.”

Fort Dodge has been a lot of things offensively the last few years — dynamic, athletic, record-breaking — but “overpowering” is a description pretty far down the list. With senior co-captain Sawyer Springer being the only returning offensive lineman in 2020, there were plenty of questions in preseason camp about the Dodgers’ ability to set the tempo up front.

For at least one week, they answered with authority.

Senior taiblack Dayson Clayton and company racked up all-time FDSH bests for points and yardage, but this was a total team effort at the point of attack. Linemen Springer, junior Jake Wagner, junior Cael Mason, sophomore Keaton Nichols and sophomore Collin Munter all established a presence, as did junior fullback Jace Ulrich and receivers like sophomore Javion Jondle and junior Amaris Harris. When Clayton didn’t have the ball in his hands, he was laying out punishment downfield, too.

“I think the blocking was the biggest takeaway after watching film of the game,” Moser said. “It’s the best I’ve seen them look this month. I won’t say I was surprised, but you never really know coming out of camp with so many new pieces how they’d all fit. They came out right away, forced the issue and found contact.

“I hope we can continue to hang our hat on being a physical football team. I think that caught Ames a little off guard. Mason City will be much tougher (along the lines), and Ankeny the week after that. It’s only going to get more challenging, so we’ll have to keep putting in the time and continue this aggressive mentality.”

Fort Dodge has now defeated the Little Cyclones five consecutive times, and has eight wins in 10 meetings against Ames since 2009. From 1995-2008, the Dodgers were 0-14 versus their old Big 8 rivals.

The Little Cyclones have to be particularly tired of Clayton, a four-year starter who has racked up 923 yards from scrimmage (657 rushing, 266 receiving) and 13 touchdowns on Ames since 2017. Fort Dodge has outscored AHS by 100 points during his career (237-137) and averaged 59.3 points in the process.

A ton of points. Not a lot of stops. This victory may initially seem like a variation of that theme, but it had a different feel if you saw it in color.

The absurd final score from last Friday looks like all flash at first blush. And plenty of assumptions are being made today: most notably, the Dodgers must be heavy on playmakers, but short on nastiness in the trenches and defensive prowess.

Looks can be deceiving. It’s only one week, but if Fort Dodge is able to hone and harness its physicality on both sides of the ball moving forward, Moser’s squad could very well be more guts than glitz. It’s the kind of mentality that’s built to last.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. Contact him via email at sports@messengernews.net, or on Twitter @MessengerSports

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