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Another tall task ahead for Fort Dodge

Dodgers face third Top-5 opponent in seven-time defending champ Dowling

WEST DES MOINES — Wounded and backed into a corner after last week’s Homecoming performance, the Fort Dodge football team goes back on the road for a rare Thursday contest against their third Top-5 opponent this season.

Next up: seven-time defending Class 4A state champion and fourth-ranked West Des Moines Dowling.

Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. inside Valley Stadium.

Head coach Nik Moser’s squad will try to respond from its first true sub-par showing over the course of the first six weeks. The Dodgers (3-3 overall) aren’t interested in excusing away their lackluster effort in a 20-6 setback versus now-No. 10 Sioux City East last Friday — they’re just ready to move on.

“We want to prove that last week was an aberration,” Moser said. “We have no idea what’s going to happen in this game (tonight) from a (scoreboard) standpoint, of course, but the one thing we can control is our energy level and competitiveness. It’s no secret that we were flat (against East). We weren’t ready to play a game, and that’s unacceptable.

“I really believe our team is better than letting (a loss) like that define them. This isn’t a group that’s going to back down from a challenge.”

They’re in for a big one against the 4-1 Maroons, who have the second-longest high school state championship streak in the nation. Soldotna (Alaska) is first with eight.

“Dowling has really nice receivers and a solid quarterback. And of course, they’re physical up front on both sides,” Moser said. “Their linebackers run to the ball as well as anyone we’ve faced. You don’t see many weaknesses on film. Just a fundamentally sound team, which is why they’ve experienced such an (unprecedented level) of success.

“(The seven straight titles) has been a heck of a run — something I don’t think anyone saw being done at the 4A level. With that being said, we’re not playing a Dowling team from seven years ago, four years ago or even last season. We only have to focus on the task at hand, and not let the moment get bigger than it should be for us. I don’t think we’ll be intimidated, having already faced (third-ranked) Ankeny and (No. 2) Urbandale.”

After an 18-15 loss at Johnston, the Maroons have responded with consecutive wins over No. 6 Waukee (37-34) and Marshalltown (42-0). Senior quarterback Jake Steingreaber has thrown for 705 yards and six touchdowns, with senior Zach Schwager (264 yards rushing) and junior Khameron Middleton (223 yards) lead a balanced rushing attack.

Senior Louis Brooks (24 catches, 439 yards, 5 TDs) has put up big numbers from the receiving corps; Brooks had six receptions for 185 yards and three scores against the Bobcats last Friday.

Fort Dodge’s setbacks to date have come against programs with a combined 16-2 record: Ankeny (5-1), Urbandale (6-0) and Sioux City East (5-1). After turning the ball over just four times in the first four weeks, the Dodgers have committed 10 miscues in the last two.

“We obviously have to get that cleaned up,” Moser said. “We’ve faced some really tough competition, and of course, it doesn’t get any easier with Dowling. But we can’t beat ourselves if we want to have a chance against anyone.”

FDSH’s standout senior tailback, Dayson Clayton, is doubtful on Thursday after seeing limited action with an injured ankle last week versus the Black Raiders. Junior Jon Presswood is slated to start in Clayton’s place.

The Dodgers are 1-8 all-time against the Maroons, with the lone victory coming in 1980 by a 15-0 final. Fort Dodge dropped a dramatic 19-15 decision to Dowling in the 1994 state quarterfinal round; since then, the Dodgers are 0-6 and have been out-scored a combined 257-22.

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