ANKENY - Fort Dodge head coach Matt Miller wanted to make sure his team - and, most notably, his seniors - didn't walk off the field after their Class 4A substate loss here Wednesday thinking only about the final score.
Miller lined his squad up in the endzone, then had the players who dressed for the last time as Dodgers walk through single-file and greet their teammates in an emotional tribute to the close of their prep careers.
"I didn't want this game to define them, and I wanted to make sure our juniors and sophomores recognized the seniors for everything they've done for this program," Miller said after FDSH's 54-0 setback against the second-seeded and fifth-ranked Hawks.
"Obviously this isn't what any of us had in mind when we made the trip down here, but you can't let one bad night consume you or become how people remember you.
"We're disappointed and it hurts, but when all is said and done, these seniors have been a part of a lot of great things here and a lot of special moments. They worked very hard and deserve the respect of everyone involved with our program, as every senior class does when the season ends."
Six first-half touchdowns powered Ankeny (9-1 overall), the CIML Central Conference co-champion which is pursuing its eighth trip to the UNI-Dome and the state semifinals since 2000 under legendary head coach Jerry Pezzetti. The Hawks were all business against the Dodgers (3-7), racking up 270 yards before the break to put this one out of reach early.
"They're a great football team," Miller said of Ankeny. "It's an elite program that knows how to win consistently in the postseason. They've been doing that under Coach Pezzetti for a long, long time. They're not the biggest up front, but their quickness is very impressive.
"When you're facing an opponent like this, the last thing you can do is give them a short field to work with. Well, five of those six touchdown drives started in our territory. It was kind of the story of our season when we struggled - we dug ourselves a hole, and that hole just kept getting deeper."
Nine different Hawks carried the ball in a 297-yard rushing attack. Meanwhile, junior quarterback Joel Lanning completed 8 of 11 passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns in just one half of work.
The Dodgers had a season-low five first downs and negative-eight cumulative yards on the ground. Quarterback Sam Edwards threw for 143 yards, finishing his senior campaign with 2,136 yards - the second-most ever by an FDSH signal-caller.
Juniors Tommy Halligan (3 catches, 59 yards) and Tyler Vaughn (3-42) were Edwards' main targets. The Dodgers were without leading receiver Isaac Lehman, the program's new single-season reception king who broke his collar bone in last Friday's contest against top-ranked West Des Moines Valley.
"We had 21 seniors who were a part of the CIML championship team (in 2010) and put it all on the line in practice and in games for two years," Miller said. "There are close to 600 boys in our school, and these are the kids who are in it at the end. They've made the sacrifice and commitment to our program, which is worthy of our thanks and appreciation.
"Forty-six other 4A teams are going to have to deal with these feelings when all is said and done. It's a part of football and a part of life. But you don't let the outcome define who you are as a person, and I'm proud of each and every one of our kids, regardless of what that scoreboard says."
The Hawks, who suited 80 juniors and seniors as the fourth-largest school in 4A compared to Fort Dodge's 44 and No. 37 ranking, advance to face Sioux City East in the second round. The Raiders knocked out Waukee last night, 24-6.
Contact Eric Pratt at (515) 573-2141, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org