The winner of Friday's Class 4A, Division 2 contest between Fort Dodge and Johnston won't necessarily be guaranteed a postseason berth.
On the other hand, the loser is in for an uphill climb the rest of the way.
The Dodgers (2-4 overall, 1-1 division) and Dragons bring identical records into tonight's pivotal game, which will kick off at 7 p.m.
''We aren't necessarily a shoo-in if we get this one, but it sure would help,'' FDSH head coach Matt Miller said of his team's Homecoming date inside Dodger Stadium. ''Johnston's played a very tough schedule so far; I think their record is a little deceiving (the Dragons' four losses are to opponents with a combined record of 19-5) at 2-4.
''Right now, (the league race) is (top-ranked) Ankeny at the top, (Des Moines North) at the bottom, and everyone else fighting for separation in the middle. It would definitely be an advantage to get our (division mark) to 2-1 (with a victory). Our kids know what's needed from here on out, and I'm sure theirs do, too.''
Fort Dodge and Johnston both prevailed by lopsided margins a week ago, with the Dodgers flattening Des Moines North, 36-7, and the Dragons pounding Sioux City North, 41-20.
LT: Jake Porter, 265, jr.
LG: Michael Carlson, 280, sr.
C: Kyle Johnson, 220, sr.
RG: Marquan Clayton, 295, jr.
RT: Connor Hubbard, 260, sr.
SE: Tyler Vaughn, 170, sr.
SE: Keegan Jones, 175, sr.
WB: Wesley Castro, 155, sr.
HB: Tommy Halligan, 175, sr.
TB: Austin Halligan, 170, so.
QB: Andrew Stover, 175, jr.
DE: Riley Prescott, 220, jr.
NG: Gavin Thomas, 220, sr.
DE: Skyler Harris, 210, so.
LB: Adrean Johnson, 180, sr.
LB: Sam Cook, 200, fr.
LB: Austin Anderson, 170, sr.
LB: Anthony Credit, 185, sr.
LB: A. Halligan
CB: Brandan Schoenfeld, 165, jr.
Statistically speaking, the two squads are as even as their records. Quarterback Andrew Stover has thrown for 1,071 yards - a junior-class best at FDSH - and 10 touchdowns, while Johnston senior Michael Kinning - a three-year starter - has 1,089 yards and nine TDs to his credit.
The Dodgers have rushed for 734 yards; the Dragons are at 879.
''Kinning's been around for a long time, and they have a sophomore tailback (Jordan Weddington) who is having a very solid season (683 yards and eight scores),'' Miller said. ''This will be another good test and a measuring stick to see how far we've come.
''Even in beating North last Friday, we're still searching for that full, 48-minute effort. I think we're getting closer, but to beat a team like Johnston, it has to be there from start to finish - both in execution and intensity.''
Junior Devon Kirby has 344 yards on the ground for Fort Dodge, which had more rushing yards last week at North than it had in the previous three games combined. The Dodgers have also scored 92 points in the last three weeks after accruing just 36 in the first three.
Senior halfback and linebacker Tommy Halligan (ankle) remains questionable after missing last Friday's contest - the first absence of his career. Junior lineman Carlos Rocha (shoulder) and junior defensive back Brandon Archibald (ankle) are both still out.
Fort Dodge is trying to win on its home turf for the first time in nearly two full calendar years tonight. The Dodgers are 5-3 on the road but 0-8 in Fort Dodge since late October 2010.
''Homecoming's always a busy, hectic week for the kids,'' Miller said. ''When they report to the stadium (this evening), though, their attention will be on the game and nothing else. Our focus is going to determine our chances, because we can't play distracted and expect to compete against a program like Johnston.''
The Dragons are coached by Brian Woodley, who is in his 11th season at the helm. Woodley is the oldest son of Mike Woodley - FDSH's lead man from 1983-88. Woodley was 25-28 with the Dodgers. He is the current head coach at Grand View University.
Miller was an assistant under Mike Woodley in 1988.