HORTONVILLE (WFRV) – On September 25, 2020, Hortonville quarterback Sam Dodd made his first varsity start against a mountain of adversity.
The Polar Bears were starting the season a month after originally planned and playing amid a pandemic-changed school year. 48 hours before kickoff, they had to find a new opponent. They had no film on the team from the other sideline and little time to prepare.
Not to mention, the opponent was a state power with a four-year starting quarterback.
But in his first moment in the spotlight, all Dodd did was shine. On a night when the junior racked up 331 yards through the air, it was his final 20 that will be remembered for years at Hortonville – a game-winning touchdown pass to Parker Lawrence with one second on the clock, rallying the Polar Bears to a 43-39 victory.
“I remember, me and Parker, it was our first game,” Dodd said this week. “We didn’t have a lot of preparation going into it and he was the guy I trusted the most, so I went to him as often as I could and obviously I remember the last throw, with no time remaining to win the game.”
It was a moment that almost didn’t happen – Hortonville tried a field goal to send the game to overtime, but the Phantoms blocked the kick.
There was only one thing preventing a West De Pere win – a timeout called from the Phantoms sideline just before the snap.
“It was that play, and right after the field goal, they had a timeout to try to ice him and we’re like, you know what, let’s go for the win on this thing,” senior receiver Aiden Leist recalled. “So everyone had their job and once we saw Parker come down with it, Sam put all his faith in it, and he made the play and it was just an awesome experience, especially for the first game.”
Ever since Dodd’s first start, he’s been the star of the Hortonville offense. In just eight games last season, he threw for more than 1,600 yards and 14 touchdowns, and he’s put in the work to be even better in 2021.
“So pretty much it was a matter of working,” Dodd said. “I didn’t play basketball last winter – it was my first time not playing basketball and I just focused on throwing the football all winter, so I was just building up my technique, my form, stuff like that.”
“It’s good to have a guy you can lean on like that,” Hortonville head coach Benjamin Stumpf said. “He puts the throws where he needs to, he’s confident in himself, he’s become a very good leader. He’s a very good senior football player for us.”
Unlike many other quarterbacks and systems in Northeast Wisconsin, the Hortonville offense isn’t afraid to air it out with Dodd. It’s that unique style that gives the Polar Bears an advantage over other run-heavy teams in the VFA.
“Even in our conference, it’s a lot of running,” Dodd said. “But with us, it’s always been a high-flying offense, huge plays.
“We’ve always been a big play team, so that’s the best way to get big plays.”
This weekend, Hortonville and West De Pere met for the second consecutive season as nonconference foes – and once again, it turned into an instant classic.
The Polar Bears and Phantoms played into double overtime before Hortonville kicker Drew Klein finished off a 32-29 victory with a game-winning 42-yard field goal.
Dodd is in line for all-conference and all-state honors with his performance through two weeks of the high school season – and now, he’ll hope to lead the Polar Bears to their first outright conference title since 2013.