Fort Dodge’s repeated inability to finish what it started allowed Ankeny to seize the moment and ultimately earn a 28-14 Class 4A, Division 2 road victory here Friday.
While the Dodgers (3-5 overall, 1-3 in the league) were left wondering what might have been after seeing three drives stall deep in Hawk territory, Ankeny (3-5, 2-2) executed with pinpoint precision to prevail and keep its once-dark postseason hopes alive.
”We had our chances – plenty of chances,” FDSH head coach Matt Miller said. ”While we missed our opportunities, they made the most of theirs. There were so many little things execution-wise here and there that added up to being the difference.
”Our effort was 110 percent better than (the week before at Johnston). We came out with as much energy and intensity as we’ve shown basically all season. We just weren’t able to sustain it; there were a few key moments where the momentum really swung. They capitalized and it cost us a chance (at victory).”
The Dodgers got off to an auspicious start, driving 70 yards to paydirt as sophomore tailback Sam Cook scored to make it 7-0 less than three minutes into the game. Fort Dodge immediately forced a three-and-out and went right back to work, rumbling 61 yards on 18 plays.
The Dodgers were stopped at the Hawk 21-yard line on downs, though. Two snaps later, Ankeny’s PJ Carey went the distance on a 77-yard screen pass to suddenly tie the score.
”That was kind of the whole night in a nutshell,” Miller said. ”We stall out on a great drive after a false start and a sack, then boom – they make a big play and it’s 7-7.”
The Dodgers had out-gained Ankeny 126 yards to three in the first quarter, with Cook picking up 82 of those yards on the ground.
Fort Dodge saw another possession end on downs at nearly the exact same spot as the first after Ankeny’s TD. After trading punts, the Hawks went up for good in the final minute of the opening half as quarterback Cole Whitaker again hit Carey wide open in the end zone for a 14-7 advantage.
Ankeny had only run 13 plays from scrimmage by the intermission, compared to 37 by the Dodgers. And despite holding a decisive advantage in yards (173-133) and first downs (11-3), Fort Dodge was trailing.
”You just can’t get that close (to the red zone) and come up with nothing twice, then turn around and give up two touchdowns on busted coverage,” Miller said. ”That’s the bottom line.”
The Hawks executed a wheel route to perfection on 3rd-and-17 early in the third period, as Whitaker found tailback Dan Lenzini all alone from 44 yards out. Ankeny would tack on another touchdown for a 28-7 edge before the Dodgers mounted one final rally.
Senior Andrew Stover connected with junior Spencer Barber on a short scoring route with 10:13 remaining in regulation to cap a 13-play, 80-yard drive. Kicker Ethan Schwendemann then recovered his own on-side kick up the middle of the field, and Fort Dodge marched down to the 1-yard line before Ankeny’s defense buckled down and stuffed the Dodgers on 4th-and-goal with less than six minutes to go.
Cook rushed for 152 more yards on 33 carries, though the Hawks slowed him enough after FDSH’s first two drives. The Dodger ground game was also hampered by an injury to all-conference center Jacob Porter, who suffered a sprained ankle. Porter returned and finished the game, but was limping noticeably.
Cook, just a sophomore, now has 1,343 yards – the second best single-season total in school history, behind only Jontel Clayton (1,608 in 2009). Cook passed Zach Mason (1,329 in 2003) last night to move into the runner-up position through just eight contests.
Stover accumulated 130 passing yards to clear the 3,000-yard mark for his career.
Senior Carlos Rocha had the lone Dodger sack.
Whitaker completed three touchdowns through the air and one more on the ground for the Hawks, who won their second straight after a four-game slide. The left-handed junior has now thrown seven TD passes in the last two weeks.
Ankeny, the defending Class 4A champion, can all but clinch a substate berth with a victory Friday over winless Des Moines North.
Fort Dodge, meanwhile, has work to do. For the second consecutive year, the Dodgers must beat Sioux City North (3-5, 1-3) to reach the playoffs. The Stars lost in a scorefest last night against No. 3 Ames, 52-42.
”It’s all coming down to this again – we’re either moving on or one-and-done, just like (Week 9) last season,” Miller said of this Friday’s home game. ”We have nothing to hang our heads about right now. We were in great position to even our record, but it didn’t happen. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though. We just didn’t execute consistently at the level it takes to win. We’ll go back to work and hopefully clean things up in time for North.”