The Fort Dodge football program knows this drill.
For the second consecutive season, the Dodgers (3-5 overall, 1-3 Class 4A, Division 2) must defeat Sioux City North (3-5, 1-3) to reach the substate round of the playoffs. And for the second straight year, a trip to eighth-ranked West Des Moines Valley almost assuredly awaits the winner of tonight's contest.
Kickoff in this postseason elimination game between FDSH and the Stars is set for 7 p.m. on Friday inside Dodger Stadium.
Head coach Matt Miller's squad must find a way to contain North's dynamic offense if it hopes to advance beyond Week 9 for a sixth consecutive time. The Stars threw a scare into third-ranked Ames last week in Sioux City, eventually bowing out 52-42 despite racking up nearly 600 yards of total offense and leading at halftime.
''They're a very dangerous offense that can put up yards and points in bunches if given the opportunity,'' Miller said. ''The numbers they had against Ames were definitely eye-opening.
''From an athletic standpoint, they're as good at the skill positions as any team we've faced - and that's saying something, given the personnel of (the Little Cyclones) and Urbandale.''
Six-foot-5 junior Dan Tillo - already a widely-recognized basketball prospect - was forced back into the quarterback spotlight recently, and he's made the most of his second go-round. Tillo, who started this season at receiver after being North's signal-caller a year ago, threw for 457 yards and six touchdowns versus Ames, while scrambling for 102 more on the ground.
Senior receiver Deontre Dean, who stands 6-foot-3, caught 12 passes for 267 yards and four of the scores. The Stars, led by former Eagle Grove head coach Shawn Meth, rallied from an early 24-6 deficit to go up on the Little Cylcones at halftime, 26-24.
Fort Dodge had a chance to clinch a substate berth last week, but the Dodgers fell 28-14 against Ankeny despite holding an advantage in overall yards and first downs. Three stalled drives near the red zone whisked away FDSH's chances to secure a postseason bid, so Miller's squad will try again tonight.
''We've been in this position before - in fact, the exact same spot (as 2012, when Fort Dodge escaped 29-26 at North in Week 9 to qualify),'' Miller said. ''Our focus has not only been trying to earn that 10th game, but also, to break the three-win mold (the Dodgers were 3-6 in each of the last two seasons). I'd like to see the seniors especially take that step forward and go out on a high note in their (home finale).''
Sophomore Sam Cook, who had 152 more yards on 33 carries last week against the Hawks, continues his march up the school's single-season charts. Cook has 1,343 yards on 207 carries, which ranks him second and first in 4A for those respective categories and second in FDSH history (1,608 yards by Jontel Clayton in 2009).
Cook has cleared the 100-yard hurdle seven times in eight tries, and last week marked the sixth performance of 135 yards or more by the 10th-grade record-holder.
''Our approach will be similar to (the Ankeny gameplan) - try to control the time of possession with sustained drives to keep the ball away from their playmakers,'' Miller said. ''We executed that well (against the Hawks), but we didn't finish. We have to put more points on the board (this evening) when we have the chance.''
Senior quarterback Andrew Stover has 1,080 passing yards and 10 touchdowns this fall, giving him 3,084 and 26, respectively, in his career. Both totals are second to only Randy Reiners (4,385 yards and 39 TDs from 1992-94) at Fort Dodge.
Tonight's winner will play one of 16 substate contests on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Tigers (6-2) are the likely opponent at Valley Stadium in Wes Des Moines.