JOHNSTON - A jumbled Class 4A, District 2 football race will begin to gain some clarity tonight, starting with Fort Dodge's game at Johnston.
Fourth-ranked Ames (6-0 overall, 2-0 district) is undoubtedly in the driver's seat, but both the Dodgers (3-3, 1-1) and Dragons (3-3, 2-0) still have their sights set on an upper-division finish. That task will be much more difficult for the loser of Friday's contest, which kicks off at 7 p.m.
''It's still kind of up in the air after Ames,'' Miller said. ''We've had an interesting schedule so far - the three teams we've lost to have been very good (combined 15-3 record), but the three teams we've beaten continue to struggle (combined 1-17 record). Things even out quite a bit over these final three weeks.
''First and foremost, we need to get healthy. A lot of our guys are sick or banged up right now. We don't have the depth to accomplish what we need to without them, so we're going to cross our fingers and hope we can get back to full strength as soon as possible.''
Miller listed 12 players anywhere from questionable to out for the trip, and starters Skyler Harris (DE), Brandan Schoenfeld (CB), Berch Fritz (CB) and Josh Diosdado (NG) will not take the field. Two-way starter Carlos Rocha has been sidelined the flu, and linebacker Zach Lowery - who had three sacks last Friday - tweaked his knee in practice this week. Both will be game-time decisions.
''We're kind of mixing and matching; the lineup is still up in the air,'' Miller said. ''We're patching things together and hoping some of the guys who are on the fence can give it a go.''
Johnston has won consecutive games after a three-week dry spell. The Dragons took care of Ankeny, 42-27, and Sioux City North, 28-17, to take a strong early position in the district.
''They're a pretty darn good ballclub,'' Miller said of Johnston. ''I'm impressed by what I've seen on film. We knew this coming into the season, but (junior Jordan) Weddington is a great running back. It all starts with him.''
Weddington has 706 rushing yards on 154 carries and eight touchdowns. Six-foot-5 senior quarterback Mike Mahanna, meanwhile, has thrown for 1,095 yards and 12 scores, predominantly targeting junior wideout Andrew Heuss (32 catches, 662 yards, 10 TDs).
Miller also called the Dragons ''stout'' up front, with junior all-stater Hezekiah Applegate (240 pounds), senior nose tackle Travis Theisen (290), junior Troy Tigges (210) and senior Robert Doan (210) providing plenty of size in the trenches.
''We're going to have to be a little more open in our offensive approach,'' Miller said. ''They're pretty solid against the run, so it's important that we stay as balanced as possible. Applegate is a handful.''
Fort Dodge, meanwhile, is on the verge of having both a 1,000-yard runner and a 1,000-yard passer for just the third time in school history. Sophomore tailback Sam Cook shattered the program's single-game rushing record in a 43-15 victory over Des Moines North a week ago with 352 yards. Cook also established a new FDSH single-season sophomore mark in just his sixth contest, with 1,073 yards on the ground. That total currently ranks second in Class 4A.
Senior quarterback Andrew Stover has thrown for 827 yards, nine touchdowns and only three interceptions. If Stover - who now ranks second in nearly every career passing category behind Dodger great Randy Reiners - accumulates 173 more yards, Cook and Stover will join the tandems of Zach Mason and Zach Edwards (2004) and Kevin Johnson and Scott Jamieson (1981) as the only 1,000-yard duos ever at Fort Dodge.
This is the final regular-season road assignment for the Dodgers, who will take on Ankeny (1-5) and Sioux City North (3-3) to close the campaign in the two weeks ahead.
Johnston is coached by Brian Woodley, who is in his 12th 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.