Rare Thursday tilt for Dodgers

SIOUX CITY – Fort Dodge football coach Matt Miller isn’t reading too much into Sioux City North’s season-opening loss at Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln.

He also doesn’t want Dodger fans to panic over what Star quarterback Daniel Tillo did to his defense a year ago.

Fort Dodge (1-0 overall) heads to Olsen Stadium on the campus of Morningside College for the second time in as many weeks to take on a North squad looking to rebound in their home opener.

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. in this rare Thursday tilt.

The Stars (0-1) were hampered by four untimely turnovers in a 42-27 setback at CBAL last Friday. Tillo, a multi-sport all-state athlete, threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns on 62 pass attempts.

Miller, a former standout lineman at Morningside, saw enough on film to take the final score with a grain of salt.

“Given the weather and the playing conditions (the game was played in a steady rain that pooled on the Council Bluffs field), I’m not taking much away from that score,” Miller said. “North is a very talented team with a lot of gifted athletes, and Tillo’s right at the top of the list. They have playmakers up and down the lineup, and he can do it all.”

The Dodgers learned of Tillo’s exploits the hard way last fall in their regular-season finale. The 6-foot-5 left-hander passed for 460 yards and rushed for 202 more – with eight total touchdowns – in a 62-39 victory that kept Fort Dodge out of the postseason for the first time since 2007.

The 787 offensive yards accumulated by the Stars that night set a Class 4A state record, as did the 1,334 total yards in the game. Tillo racked up 1,249 yards of offense against Ames and the Dodgers in the final two weeks of 2013.

Miller feels – and hopes – his defense is more equipped to handle North’s attack this time around.

“I think our personnel is a better fit to defend them (compared to last season),” Miller said. “Our guys are going to have to be on their toes and ready, though. Some of the mental mistakes and tentativeness we showed last week at times will be exposed against an offense like North’s if we’re not careful.

“With that being said, I think the possibilities and potential continues to be there for our defense. It could be a pretty solid outfit. This is going to be a huge test. Without question.”

Fort Dodge surrendered only 163 yards and eight first downs in a lopsided 57-13 win over Sioux City West here last week. The Dodgers rushed for 326 yards in the victory, with senior Taijuan Blair accumulating 143 yards and three touchdowns on the ground – predominantly in relief of injured junior all-stater Sam Cook.

Cook, who is nursing an injured hip and balky back, may not see the field tonight. The Dodgers’ tailback, linebacker and punter had 63 yards and a score on nine carries last Friday before leaving the game.

A year ago, Cook finished with 265 yards and three TDs against North at Dodger Stadium.

Blair and sophomore defensive back Solomon Clayton will fill in for Cook if he sits.

Tillo isn’t the only option in North’s arsenal. Robert Neustrom, an all-state baseball player, caught eight passes for 79 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Stars’ opener. Miller is also wary of Deion Clayborne and Xavier Scarlett, who return from North’s 2013 offense.

“They are as explosive offensively as any team we’ll see up until maybe the end of the season (against No. 2 Waukee),” Miller said. “We have to do a good job of containing and staying fundamentally sound. It should be an exciting, entertaining ballgame.”

Fort Dodge and North have met in each of the last four seasons on the gridiron, with both programs winning twice. Twenty-six year old Jon Niemic has replaced former Eagle Grove head coach Shawn Meth at the helm for the Stars this fall.