CARROLLTON — Best in Whitfield County. Best in Region 7-4A. Best in the state.
And there was no question about it.
Dalton beat area rival Southeast Whitfield 5-0 in the Georgia High School Association’s Class 4A boys soccer state championship Friday night at the University of West Georgia’s Ra-Lin Field.
The lopsided win was one of many this season for the Catamounts, but that wasn’t the only reason coach Matt Cheaves didn’t hesitate to call this team the best he has coached in 19 years of leading the program.
“The No. 1 thing I ask teams for is a positive attitude, and this is the best team I’ve ever coached,” Cheaves said. “I mean no disrespect to any of my former players, but this team is. … The guys wanted to win. They didn’t care who played, they didn’t care who did the scoring. They wanted to win the state championship.”
It was the fourth victory this season against the Raiders for the Catamounts, who finished the season with a 22-0 record and claimed the program’s second state title. Dalton shared its previous title with Heritage-Rockdale after finishing the 2003 Class 4A championship tied 1-1 because at the time GHSA rules did not allow title matches to be settled by penalty kicks if they were tied after overtime.
Neither team would have shared this title, though, and Dalton made its claim on the trophy almost from the opening whistle. Cats junior sweeper Salvador Rodriguez gave his team a 1-0 lead less than three minutes into the match when he converted a free kick from 40 yards out.
It was a devastating strike to the underdog Raiders (13-5-1), who gave up three more goals in the first half. The Cats, who entered the match ranked No. 1 in the eurosportscorebard.com Class 4A poll — Southeast was ranked seventh — probably didn’t need much of a confidence boost, but their fast score was a welcome jolt for Dalton fans, who erupted in cheers.
Dalton outscored opponents 134-8 this season, and Friday’s shutout was the 15th for the Cats, who left no doubt about deserving the top ranking they’d held for most of the season.
When the final buzzer sounded Friday, the “D” on the front of their jerseys might as well have stood for dominant.
“It feels really good to put all the hard work and practice (to work),” senior striker Ramiro Huitanda said. “We never stopped trying, we never stopped running, and we always focused on the small details like coach always talks about, and that’s what makes this team a championship team.”