I’ll be the first to admit I never really understood this whole Dalton High School “mystique” when it comes to football.
I’ve been covering prep football in Georgia for more than two decades and have a grasp of what the sport is like in most parts of the state. I know — and have covered — true dynasties over those years.
Buford has won state five of the past six years and eight times since 2001. Thomas County Central won five of six titles from 1992 to 1997. West Rome captured four straight from 1982 to 1985. Valdosta hasn’t won state since 1998, but the Wildcats are still at the top of the list for Georgia High School Association titles with 21 — that’s seven more than second-place Lincoln County, which has nine championships since 1985.
Camden County, Charlton County, Lowndes, Northside-Warner Robins, Parkview, Washington County — those are teams I think of as the best of the best in Georgia prep football.
Dalton? Well, the view from outside northwest Georgia is that Dalton is a good program with a winning tradition that will occasionally make a splash on the statewide stage.
That isn’t a slam against the Catamounts, but when looking at Dalton from outside of the region, the school’s football reputation takes a hit because of its surroundings. Besides Calhoun and Ridgeland as of late, the rest of northwest Georgia football just isn’t that good.
But after seeing the way the Ringgold Tigers and their fans celebrated so jubilantly last Friday night at Harmon Field following their 33-27 triple-overtime win against the Cats, I understand it a little bit more. The win by the Tigers wasn’t just a win over the 2013 edition of the Cats, it was a win over all the other Dalton teams that had beaten Ringgold 43 times in 44 meetings — often decisively — going into last week’s matchup. It was like those teams that beat Alabama during the time between Gene Stallings and Nick Saban, because in their minds they were not only beating the current Crimson Tide teams but gaining a win over the “mystique” of Bear Bryant.
That is the kind of reputation this year’s Cats will have to try to live up to. I have a better understanding of that now.
• The rest of you fans didn’t show up here to hear me beating the “Go Big Red!” drum, so let’s get down to the business at hand.
Like the Cats, your Guru of Gridiron Guessing is 0-1. But it’s a long season, and like the Carpenters would sing (kids, ask your crazy great-uncle), “We’ve only just begun ...”
• Game of the Week — North Murray at Southeast Whitfield: Ever since they first took the field as starters for Southeast as freshmen, people have been saying to just wait to see how good Blake Foster and Rhett Harper are going to be as seniors.
Well boys, here we go.
I expect this Southeast team to have more success because of those two players, but the breadth of the Raiders’ success will depend on the rest of the team. Last year, the Raiders ended the season with some promising wins and some defeats that might be viewed as even more promising than those wins. Now we get to see if they have built upon that.
The Raiders get the perfect foil for the opener in North Murray, a program that has rebuilt from the ground up. You can’t lose the amount of starters the Mountaineers did and expect to be just as good out of the gate. It may happen before the end of the year, but it isn’t likely to happen tonight.
Whit’s Pick: Southeast 34, North Murray 17
• Murray County at Coahulla Creek: I don’t think I am going too far out on a limb by saying it’s reasonable to expect the Colts to go 4-6 or 5-5 in their second varsity season. And with 20 seniors on the roster, the team should be mad I am only picking that many wins.
Things are new again in Murray County, and I think in Chad Brewer the school has found a coach who can rebuild this once-proud program. After such a long dry spell, they might have a parade this year if the Indians win a pair of games. If they do, it will be a major success.
The Indians will get better, but it is going to take a lot of time and patience.
Whit’s Pick: Coahulla Creek 35, Murray County 13
• Model at Christian Heritage: Christian Heritage’s first season of GHSA competition wasn’t bad, but with the Lions going 5-5 and missing the state playoffs in 2012, it wasn’t great either.
That is sort of the same way I feel this year is likely to turn out. Even though the Lions have a much larger senior class than 2012 and enrollment is up and the school is growing with its planned expansions, depth is the one thing keeping me from picking Christian Heritage for a big season.
Having played at a Class A private school in my (much) younger years, I know the challenges a lack of depth presents. Having too many people on the field for too long leads to mistakes late in the game. In last year’s season-opening loss to Model, the Lions committed SEVEN turnovers.
If Christian Heritage could get every one of its opponents to play only one half of football, I would predict and 8-2 season for the Lions.
However, there are still a lot of players wearing Christian Heritage jerseys going both ways in that pretty little stadium.
We’re going to have fun this year, Lions.
Whit’s Pick: Model 28, Christian Heritage 27
• Pepperell at Northwest Whitfield: I’m keeping you under the radar, Northwest. The rumbles over in Tunnel Hill are building that this is your year.
They’re saying you can throw off the Dalton curse. You can earn a playoff bid. You can challenge for a home game in the state playoffs and maybe even a region title. You see a lot of perceived weakness since Ridgeland lost so much and Dalton lost at home.
The rumbles are growing, but don’t scream too loud. This isn’t softball.
I like the offense. I like the defense. I like the coaches, and the managers do good work, too. But you are definitely the Missouri team in the area. You are going to have to “show me” before I or anyone else jumps on the bandwagon.
But you win this week either way.
Whit’s Pick: Northwest 41, Pepperell 21
• Other games: Calhoun 41, Ridgeland 28; Ringgold 35, Heritage-Catoosa 10; Adairsville 21, Cass 20; Cedartown 42, Rockmart 13; River Ridge 14, Sequoyah 13; Gilmer 24, Fannin County 7; Pickens 38, Sonoraville 12.
Chris Whitfield is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen. He can be bribed to pick your team to win with free rounds of golf or tickets to SEC football games. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.