All week long, Fort Dodge football coach Matt Miller asked his team who had the potential to deliver a game-changing moment against Mason City that could help extend the program’s series win streak to a full decade.
Plenty of players took Miller’s challenge to heart.
One Dodger after another delivered clutch fourth-quarter performances to secure a 10th consecutive victory over the Mohawks here Friday night, 24-21. It was the kind of tense, electric atmosphere that the rivalry tends to produce – with a final outcome that has become all too familiar to the Mohawk faithful.
Meanwhile, the repeat moment was as sweet as ever for Fort Dodge (2-2 overall). The Dodgers got a second wind just in time and will now march the Decker Sporting Goods traveling trophy right back into the only place it has ever resided: Fort Dodge Senior High.
”What a night,” smiled junior linebacker Ben Ahlers, whose blocked punt in the final period set up what proved to be the game-winning score. ”Coach talked to us about stepping up in a big spot and making a play that could be the difference in the game, and how often that’s happened over the course of (the 10-game stranglehold).
”It felt great to contribute in some way. It was made possible by my teammates; I was just doing my job, as was everyone around me. This was a true team win.”
Ahlers had one of the many pivotal contributions down the stretch that allowed Fort Dodge to hold off Mason City (0-4) and secure the program’s first home triumph since Oct. 25, 2010 – a span that, ironically, had reached 10 games.
Junior kicker Ethan Schwendemann booted the first varsity field goal of his career to put the Dodgers ahead to stay with 8:03 left in regulation. Junior Austin Halligan then picked off a pass moments later that led to a touchdown and a 10-point advantage. Senior Brandon Archibald recovered an on-side kick after the Mohawks trimmed their double-digit deficit to three points with just over two minutes remaining. Senior Riley Prescott had a sack that all but put the final nail in the coffin in the closing minute.
And sophomore workhorse Sam Cook had 40 carries for his first career 200-yard effort, riding the wave of his offensive line to a pair of touchdowns and a fourth straight triple-digit yardage showing.
”It’s great to get a win like this against Mason City, in front of our family, friends and fans,” said Cook, who now has 627 rushing yards in his first season as a varsity tailback. ”This is always such an intense game and we really wanted to keep (the streak) going and get a win at home, because it had been a long time.
”Our offensive line stepped up big. Our defense stepped up big. Our special teams stepped up big. You can just go down (the roster) and point to so many different (Dodgers) that did something to contribute to this (victory), and that’s the best kind.”
Fort Dodge made a statement on the first snap, as senior quarterback Andrew Stover hit Halligan all alone up the middle of the field for an 80-yard touchdown. The Dodgers forced three turnovers in the next eight minutes of action – two interceptions by sophomore safety Kole Kampen and a fumble recovery from Archibald – but weren’t able to add to their lead until Cook broke loose for a 59-yard TD scamper with less than two minutes remaining until halftime.
”I was really worried about those empty possessions, even being up 14-0 (at intermission),” FDSH head coach Matt Miller said. ”We had the ball four straight times in their territory and didn’t get anything, and that typically comes back to haunt you, especially against a quick-strike offense like theirs.
”To our kids’ credit, they really weathered the storm (in the third quarter). You knew Mason City wouldn’t quit, and they didn’t. They got it back to 14-14 in a hurry and had all the momentum, but our guys refused to lose in the last nine or so minutes of that game.
”That’s the kind of program win you’ll always remember. They did it together.”
After producing only 102 yards of total offense and being blanked for the entire first half, the Mohawks exploded out of the gate with a pair of touchdowns in a little over four minutes to start the third period with a bang. Senior quarterback Matt Meyer found teammate Matt Danielson – who was playing for the first time this season after missing the first three weeks with an injury – five times for 106 yards and a pair of scores during the flurry.
Fort Dodge’s defense surrendered only 78 yards of offense in the final 20 minutes, though, with 46 coming on a hail-mary touchdown pass from Meyer to 6-foot-5 Wyatt Cooper on fourth down late that temporarily breathed life into Mason City’s hopes.
Archibald recovered Miguel Recinos’ on-side attempt, and even though the Dodger offense went three-and-out – giving the Mohawks the ball back down 24-21 with 1:21 left – Prescott and the defense sealed the deal.
When all was said and done, FDSH players rushed to retrieve the DSG trophy at mid-field before sprinting over to the crowd and sharing the celebration with their fans.
”There was definitely some pressure; you don’t want to be a senior on the team that loses to them and ends this run, and we also knew how long it had been since we’d had this much fun in our locker room afterward,” said Prescott, who joined junior Zach Lowery with a pair of sacks. ”We’ve had a lot of close games here that we didn’t get, and a lot of close games with them (through the years) that we did.
”I’m happy it was our win streak (in the series) that we kept going and our losing streak (at home) that we were able to end. This was big – very emotional.”
Schwendemann, who hadn’t even attempted a field goal when Miller called his name for a 23-yarder from the left hashmark with the score tied in the fourth quarter, agreed.
”I just wanted to do my job for my teammates,” Schwendemann said. ”They were the ones who did what we needed offensively and defensively to earn this win. I was just fortunate enough to be a part of it.
”I sat up in bed last night, dreaming, hoping and praying for something just like this. We couldn’t ask for much more than a finish like this one.”
Stover had 152 yards passing, which moved him up to fourth on the program’s career charts (2,583). His TD pass to Halligan was the 21st of his career, which ties Stover with Antonio Love (1990-91) for third in school history.
Fort Dodge heads to Ames to face the sixth-ranked Little Cylcones (4-0) on Friday in the Class 4A, Division 2 opener for both schools.