Dalton High’s football team may remember Saturday as an opportunity missed.
At the least, even Catamounts coach Matt Land will classify it as a disappointment.
After four rounds of pool play Saturday at The Daily Citizen’s Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship, Dalton was in the best position of the five local schools in the 32-team tournament to finish in the top half of its pool and earn a spot in today’s championship bracket.
Unfortunately for the Catamounts, who were 3-1 when the tournament took a break for supper, they lost their final three games and finished fifth in Pool B after losing a tiebreaker with Harding Academy (Searcy, Ark).
All five area teams — Christian Heritage, Coahulla Creek, Northwest Whitfield and Southeast Whitfield are also participating — will compete in the consolation bracket today, with play beginning at 8:30 a.m.
“It’s disappointing for the kids because they’ve worked so hard,” Land said. “We’ll refresh ourselves and get back on the horse (today).”
Dalton lost its first game 13-12 to Ellenwood’s Cedar Grove but downed Alabama’s Luverne, 25-12, Atlanta’s Pace Academy, 26-9, and inaugural Southeastern champion Bob Jones of Madison, Ala., 36-33. The last win was the sweetest for the Cats.
“(Bob Jones) beat us on the last play in last year’s (Southeastern),” Land said. “Elijay (Stedman) got an interception right in the middle of the game. Then we kept going back and forth and seniors Brandon Painter and Randy Nguyen, they both had some key catches for us and got us some big touchdowns.”
But a 26-25 loss to Harding Academy was trouble in the tiebreaker. A 28-26 loss to Kentucky’s Bowling Green, which finished the day as the only undefeated squad, left Dalton in a win-to-get-in scenario for the championship bracket, and a 26-18 loss to Chattanooga’s McCallie, which was previously winless, sealed the deal.
The Cats’ first three losses were by a combined four points, which said more to Land than the overall record.
“Some things happen sometimes,” Land said.
And his view was the same as other local coaches. Northwest Whitfield also finished 3-4, Christian Heritage finished 2-5, Coahulla Creek finished 1-1-5 and Southeast Whitfield was 1-6 as the tournament’s first day came to a close.
“In the games we lost, we gave up five defensive touchdowns,” Bruins coach Josh Robinson said. “And it’s not like our quarterback or wide receivers are doing bad things. The defenders are just making good plays.”
Northwest lost its first game 18-12 to eventual Pool A champion Florence (Ala.) after Silas Ledford threw three interceptions that accounted for 12 of the Falcons’ 18 points. However, Ledford and the Bruins rebounded with wins against Coahulla Creek, 22-3, and LaFayette, 21-15. Losses to Riverdale of Murfreesboro, Tenn., 28-0, Fletcher of Neptune Beach, Fla., 15-3, put Northwest in today’s consolation bracket, but the Bruins finished strong with a 25-12 win against the Bob Jones “B” team.
“I’m happy the way we finished,” Robinson said.
For Christian Heritage’s Lions, who are making a jump to the Georgia High School Association this year after previously competing in the Glory For Christ Football League, this was the first true test against GHSA-level competition.
Christian Heritage got a forfeit victory against Alabama’s Carver, which was scheduled to participate but did not show up, and a surprising 26-19 victory against Alabama’s Pierce County, which only lost one other game in pool play. The Lions losses were 28-12 to Chattanooga’s Baylor, 36-0 to Alabama’s North Jackson; 19-12 to Tennessee’s McMinn County, 22-21 to Ringgold and 21-6 to North Augusta (S.C.).
“We competed well,” Christian Heritage coach Preston Poag said. “It was a lot of close ones. It was good for us. ... No matter how big a school it is, we’re Class A and it’ll make us better when we really suit up and play football.”
Coahulla Creek, which played a junior varsity schedule last season in the school’s first year, was coming from a similar perspective. The Colts and Callaway finished scoreless, and Coahulla Creek beat LaFayette 25-22. In addition to the loss to Northwest, the Colts fell 16-0 to Florence and 27-0 to Fletcher. In the final game of the day, the Colts lost 16-15 to Riverdale after scoring a touchdown but coming up short on the two-point conversion.
“Our kids needed to get that win (against LaFayette),” Coahulla Creek coach Jared Hamlin said. “Our kids are seeing varsity competition and it is good. And we’re competing.”
Southeast’s lone win was 19-14 against Karns. The Raiders’ losses were 35-3 to Cartersville, 30-3 to Lithonia’s Martin Luther King Jr., 19-12 to Auburn (Ala.), 19-9 to Kentucky’s Murray and 26-12 to Griffin.
Still, first-year Raiders coach Sean Gray was pleased with everything his squad can take from the experience.
“To be honest, we’re excited about what happened today,” he said before the final game against Griffin. “As a coach, I’m seeing what other teams are doing, and we’ve been in every game but two. Our kids aren’t scared.”
Dalton High’s football team may remember Saturday as an opportunity missed.
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