Kelvis Rhodes is back.
And back in the win column are the Dalton High School Catamounts.
Behind the junior running back’s four touchdown, 173-yard rushing night and a stingy defense that posted a shutout, Dalton defeated the Gilmer Bobcats 31-0 at Harmon Field Friday night.
Dalton (1-2) avoided an 0-3 start while Gilmer (3-1) received its first blemish on a perfect season.
Rhodes missed the first two games with a lingering shoulder injury and had not touched the ball in a game since Nov. 21, 2012 — a loss in the Class 4A state playoffs to Sandy Creek.
“It feels very good,” Rhodes said of returning, adding he felt “100 percent” after his 18-carry game. “I felt confident coming in and we just executed in all phases. I don’t feel rusty at all. I prepared myself this whole week and last week for this. I knew what was coming and I made sure I was in shape and everything for this game.”
Gilmer starting quarterback Chris James was injured early in the first quarter and did not return to the game. James, who threw for 240 yards in the opening game, was replaced by sophomore Thaddeus Bowers. Gilmer employs a run-heavy wing-T offense, but James had added a passing dimension.
With Gilmer’s passing threat out of the picture, the Catamount defense effectively bottled up fullback Tyler Bertolini, a 250-pound bruiser. In last week’s victory over Southeast Whitfield, Bertolini had 30 carries for 196 yards and two touchdowns. Against Dalton, he had 17 carries for 77 yards.
The Dalton defense limited Gilmer to 217 yards of total offense. The Bobcats never seriously threatened to score and were forced to punt six times. Senior safety Nathan Bryant had an interception and a fumble recovery.
The Catamounts set the tone early. Starting their opening drive at their own 27, Dalton had a plodding 14-play scoring drive that took up 6:32. Of those 14 plays, all but two were runs. Rhodes didn’t get his first carry until the sixth play of the drive, but made it count by ripping off a 15-yard gain to Gilmer’s 36. Eight plays later, Rhodes scored from three yards out with 5:28 left in the first quarter. Dalton led 7-0.
And they didn’t look back.
While Dalton was up just 10-0 at the half, the Cats were able to put 21 more points on the board. In the third quarter, Rhodes added two touchdown runs (48 yards and 9 yards). His 22-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and the extra point capped the scoring on the night.
“It’s a big win because it was a big game for us,” Dalton head coach Matt Land said. “It was the most important game on our schedule because it was the one we prepared for this week. I’m proud of our guys. They had great preparation this week. They looked over some distractions that we had. All we can do is work hard.”
Gilmer head coach Wesley Tankersly said he knew coming into the game that Rhodes would be tough to stop, and that his return added another element to Dalton’s offense. Land was glad to have Rhodes back.
“It’s one of those things where you look at him and see how he plays and what he brings to our team, not just on the field in yards, but what he brings as far as leadership and excitement, that’s exciting,” Land said.