SIOUX CITY - Fort Dodge's hopes of a fifth consecutive postseason appearance on the gridiron rest solely in the hands of Friday's performance at Sioux City North.
The Dodgers (2-6 overall, 1-3 in Class 4A, Division 2) and Stars (2-6, 1-3) square off for their district's final substate bid at Olsen Stadium on the campus of Morningside College. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
The winner here this evening will face either sixth-ranked Sioux City East or No. 9 West Des Moines Valley on Wednesday in the opening round of the playoffs. The Black Raiders and Tigers meet for the 4A-1 championship on Friday.
Head coach Matt Miller's program has advanced out of the regular season four straight times while accumulating an overall record of 24-24 since 2008. FDSH will have to halt its two-game losing streak on North's home turf, while the Stars are trying to stop the bleeding on a three-week slide of their own in which they've surrendered a combined 159 points.
''To say we're in similar situations would be an understatement,'' Miller said. ''We have identical records, and we've both struggled against the top-tier teams from (the division). We've both been able to move the ball pretty effectively through the air, but the balance hasn't been there as much and the defenses have worn down as the year progresses.
''It's a simple scenario now: win and you're in, lose and you go home. There isn't any mystery to this one. You should see a second-wind kind of energy to this game.''
Lopsided defeats to Johnston and No. 1 Ankeny have the Dodgers in this position. Fort Dodge hasn't won less than three games since 2007, but Miller's squad is at a crossroads against an opponent that defeated them 37-21 a year ago.
Junior quarterback Andrew Stover has thrown for a class-record 1,486 yards this fall - the fourth-best single-season total in school history. His favorite target, senior Tyler Vaughn, has a Dodger-best 54 catches for 729 yards.
Vaughn (65 receptions, 885 yards) and classmate Tommy Halligan (64-707) now rank second and third in the FDSH record books behind only Alonzo Clayton (69) for career catches.
North quarterback Daniel Tillo, a 6-foot-4 sophomore, has 1,006 passing yards of his own. He's also rushed for 308 yards out of the squad's dive-option offense.
''He's a big lefty who does a nice job,'' Miller said of Tillo. ''Their offense has some nice weapons and they always seem to get off to good starts in games. They have some burners who are dangerous with the ball, including the (D'ajo) Hubert kid (46 carries, 538 yards) who had a few big plays last year.''
Junior Faris Najdawi is the Stars' leading receiver with 30 grabs for 372 yards.
North is led by former Eagle Grove head coach Shawn Meth.
Fort Dodge will be without the services of linebacker Anthony Credit and nose tackle Gavin Thomas, who both suffered concussions last week at Ankeny. Senior wingback Wesley Castro and junior defensive back Brandon Archibald are still sidelined by leg injuries.
Junior tailback Devon Kirby, the Dodgers' leading rusher with 393 yards, is no longer with the squad.
''We'll need Austin (Halligan) and Austin (Anderson) to step up (in the backfield), and we will probably give more of a look to (sophomore) Jerique (Bryson),'' Miller said. ''The weather forecast doesn't look very promising (temperatures around 50 with 15 mile-per-hour winds), so establishing something on the ground will be important to both teams.''