Fort Dodge head coach Matt Miller still sees plenty of potential success in the weeks to come for his Dodger football team.
In order to get to that point, though, the improvement must be gradual and steady beginning tonight with a home-opening contest against Sioux City East.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. inside Dodger Stadium.
Despite Fort Dodge's lopsided loss to ninth-ranked (Class 4A) Urbandale last Friday, Miller saw enough flashes on film to keep a bullish attitude toward the immediate future. That development won't come without hard work and focus, which Miller admitted the Dodgers lacked at times against the J-Hawks.
''There are a lot of little things we need to correct that add up and can really change the dynamic of the game,'' Miller said. ''That's what our kids need to understand right now. A missed block, a missed tackle, a blown assignment, a bad penalty, not finishing a play - they may not seem like much in (isolated doses), but they can snowball into much bigger problems if we aren't careful.
''I do think we can be a solid, competitive ballclub down the road, and it's going to be fun to see what these guys can do when they reach that point. But in order to be in a position of strength for Week 6 or Week 7, we have to first show progress in Week 2. That's the goal for (Friday): to be a much better football team than we were (at Urbandale).''
The Black Raiders also dropped their opener, falling 27-22 to No. 1 (3A) Sioux City Heelan. East, which went 8-3 a year ago, struggled offensively against the Crusaders, gaining just 207 yards of total offense while surrendering 369 passing yards to Heelan standout Trenton Solsma.
''Watching the film, I was impressed with what they did despite (the setback),'' Miller said of East, which defeated FDSH 48-7 last season. ''(Senior quarterback Greg) Kirwan's a big, bruising runner, and (tailback) Ronald Carter and (X-back) Ronald Nash are playmakers.
''They'll bring a lot of pressure defensively as well. East is such a solid, tradition-rich program. We'll certainly have our hands full again (this evening).''
The Dodgers did manage 300 yards of offense versus the J-Hawks in their debut. Sophomore tailback Sam Cook rushed for 136 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown. Senior quarterback Andrew Stover had 171 passing yards while finding seven different receivers in the new-look, no-huddle offense.
''We worked (in practice) on slowing things down and simplifying our strategy,'' Miller said. ''Better execution is going to be a point of emphasis (Friday). Also, our effort was more inconsistent than I initially thought. There were times where we weren't going hard from the snap to the whistle. We're not in a position to just show up and expect to be competitive. We have to earn it by having a stronger motor than our opponent.
''Patience is never easy for high school kids, but we're still a work in progress and we all need to remember that. There will be growing pains, and I'm fine with that, as long as we stay aggressive and show a will to improve.''
The Black Raiders hold a 25-14-1 all-time edge in the series, which includes a 10-game winning streak since 1985. Fort Dodge's last victory was a 12-6 upset of the then-No. 1 East in 1984.