November 8, 2013

Region title, state dreams

Act II of Dalton-Gilmer in Ellijay for championship

The Daily Citizen
sports@daltoncitizen.com

— Over the past four seasons, Dalton High School and Gilmer have struck up a nice rivalry as tonight’s meeting between the two football teams will be the sixth in the last four seasons.

And even though Dalton has won four of those previous five meetings, Gilmer won the only game between the two with a playoff spot on the line, beating Dalton 15-13 in 2010 to deny the Catamounts a trip to the state playoffs.

Tonight, both teams are assured of making the state playoffs, but the Region 7-4A title and the opportunity to host through at least the first two rounds of the playoffs are at stake.

“This one is definitely the biggest game between us,” Gilmer coach Wesley Tankersley said. “Although we have only won one, it has been a big rivalry since we won four years ago. You know that it is always going to be a hard-hitting and well-played football game when these two teams meet."

In other games tonight, Northwest Whitfield travels to Pickens in a Region 7-4A play-in game with the winner advancing to the state playoffs, North Murray is at Gordon Central in a game with Class 3A state playoff implications and Christian Heritage travels to Roswell to take on Fellowship Christian in a game which will affect the final Class A private school power ratings. Also, Southeast Whitfield is at Cass, Coahulla Creek travels to Adairsville and Murray County is at Coosa.

Dalton (7-2) is playing for its first region title since 2007, and coach Matt Land said his team expects the game to be a true “championship” bout.

“I enjoy playing teams like Gilmer,” Land said. “They are a team that is going to do what they do. We have a lot of respect for Gilmer. It is a fun game, and you know that you are going to face someone like it is a prize fight, going toe-to-toe and fist-to-fist. Our kids like that style, and I am sure Gilmer likes that style. It fits both school’s blue-collar mentality.”

This is the second meeting between the two teams this season with Dalton taking a 31-0 win over the Bobcats (8-1) in the third game of the year. The contest marked the return of running back Kelvis Rhodes from injury and saw Gilmer quarterback Chris James leave the game early with an injury. Land said the previous meeting will have no bearing on tonight’s game.

“There is as little correlation from that game to today as comparing apples to bicycles,” Land said. “Both teams have matured since that game. Both teams have become more balanced. They have changed, and we have changed. This game will be a completely different game from the first game.”

Tankersley agreed.

“It has been a good progression for us from that game,” Tankersley said. “We will definitely find out (tonight) just how far we have come. We started out the year with a lot of unknowns, and even looking at Dalton at that time, we had a lot of unknowns. We have progressed a lot, but they have progressed as well. It will be a great game.”

Since his injury, James and Thaddeus Bowers have shared time under center for the Bobcats, but the driving force of the offense is fullback Tyler Bertolini.

On the other side of the ball, linebacker Austin Cole is the leading tackler.

Gilmer is coming off a 38-35 win over Cedartown, which decided the Sub-region 7A title. Dalton hasn’t been challenged since winning 31-28 over rival Northwest Whitfield on a game-ending field goal on Oct. 11. The Cats have given up three points and posted three shutouts in their last four games.

“Although there are some different things that we do, our styles are similar,” Tankersley said. “We have started to throw the ball more, but most of our passes — and the same for them — are based off of the run game and what the other team is going to give you. We both place a big emphasis on the defensive side of the ball.”



Christian Heritage (7-2) at Fellowship Christian (5-4)



The Lions are guaranteed to make the Class A private school playoffs, but whether or not a first-round playoff game will be played at Christian Heritage will depend greatly on the outcome of tonight’s game in Roswell.

“It is important for this program to have a home playoff game,” Christian Heritage coach Preston Poag said. “The seeds are important. We have to take care of our business. We will see. It is all in the numbers. We have to win games and let the numbers sort themselves out. That is the mindset that we will take.”

The seeding for the Class A playoffs is based on power ratings with region champions getting the highest seeds regardless of the ratings. Christian Heritage is No. 8 in the latest GHSA power ratings, which would equate to a first-round home playoff game, but a loss or a Calvary Baptist Day School win over Johnson County would likely push the Lions on the road in the first round.

This is the second meeting of the season between the two schools with Christian Heritage winning 41-0 in the third week of the season. But Poag said the Falcons are a much different team from the one that gave up big play after big play in the first meeting.

“You watch them on film, and they are a lot better,” Poag said. “Their quarterback has thrown for over 1,500 yards, and if you remember we didn’t get our offense going for a quarter and a half and had some big plays.”

Christian Heritage is coming off of a 24-20 victory over Trion in a game that saw the Lions needing a late defensive stand to win the game. Poag said that victory illustrates how far his team has come from last season when they finished 5-5 and missed the playoffs.

“We have been in games like that in the past where we haven’t finished,” Poag said. “It is a big step for our program to be able to finish off. There is no panic in them and there is a lot more confidence.”



Coahulla Creek (2-7, 1-5) at Adairsville (6-3, 4-2)



For coach Jared Hamlin’s 17 seniors, it will be one last go around in a Colts uniform. On the flip side, the Tigers will be looking to finish out their regular season and Region 5-3A schedule strong and advance into the state 3A playoffs.

Especially tough for Hamlin will be the departure of this year’s group, of whom he has connected with from the start.

“It’s always tough, each and every year,” said Hamlin, whose team is 2-7 overall and 1-5 in league games. “You create such a bond with the kids because you are around them so much. They’re a fun group and really good guys. They’re extremely fun to be around.”

Hamlin sees every football experience as a teaching opportunity, and hopes his seniors will take what they’ve learned through the game and apply it to every day life.

“I was reading a quote last week, and it made so much sense, even though it was from Mike Ditka,” Hamlin said. “It said, ‘You are never a failure until you quit.’ It’s about life. If you quit now, you’re going to quit at something later that’s a lot more important than football. We talked about that tonight. When you finally quit something, you become a failure at that point in time. But if you keep going, you’re not going to fail. You might not always win, but you’re not going to be a failure. We want them to be great men when they leave here. Five, 10 or 15 years down the road some of the football lessons they have learned are going to roll over into their life, to help them in situations, because I know it’s helped me.”



Murray County (1-8, 0-6) at Coosa (5-4, 3-3)



Cellars seldom have nice views.

That’s certainly true with Murray County, which dwells at the bottom of Region 7-2A after losing all six league games and eight of nine overall. The only path to a more scenic vista for the Indians is a victory in a season-ending matchup against Coosa (5-4, 3-3) at Eagle Stadium in Rome.

Coupled with an Armuchee (1-8, 1-5) loss to Pepperell (3-6, 3-3), the Indians would at least have company in the dark district basement with the offseason to relish just their second on-field win since beating Pickens 20-13 in overtime, on Oct. 1, 2010.

In their last 79 games over eight seasons, the Indians have lost 71 times and that indicates that no opponent on the schedule ranks as a creampuff.

“Calhoun is the best team in the region, by far,” Indians coach Chad Brewer said. “You could put Dade County, Model, Pepperell and Coosa right up there after Calhoun. Coosa is good and we’ve got our hands full.”

The Eagles started 2-3, but have won three of their last four games, two by shutout.

“Coming into the season we thought .500 would be a good year because we’re so young,” Coosa coach Todd Wheeler said. “We’ve accomplished that.”

The Eagles still have hopes to reach the state playoffs, but not Murray, which has lost six straight — four by shutout — and was outscored 316-20 in doing so.

“They’ve had a hard time with consistency,” Wheeler said. “I know it’s frustrating, but you see some good things on tape.”



North Murray (3-6, 2-4) at Gordon Central (0-9, 0-6)



If Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe beats Sonoraville and North Murray handles Gordon Central, get ready for the mini-tiebreaker games in Region 5-3A.

First thing is first — North Murray needs to win against the winless Gordon Central Warriors.

“We have a lot of respect for Gordon Central and their coaching staff,” Mountaineers coach David Gann said, “and they have some players who could start of play for just about anybody.

“When you’re 3-6, you can’t afford to overlook anybody.”

After beginning the season 1-6, North Murray has climbed back into playoff contention with two straight wins against LFO and Coahulla Creek. After finishing last season 5-5 with a senior-heavy roster, a younger Mountaineers team, at worst, can use a three-game winning streak as a building block for next year.

Junior quarterback Hinton McConkey has developed in his junior season at North Murray. Against Coahulla Creek last week, he threw for 181 yards and three touchdowns, bringing his season totals to 1,363 and 18 in each category. He also has 639 yards rushing alongside sophomore running back Drake McCowan’s 790 yards in the Mountaineers’ option-heavy offense.

North Murray averages 32.1 points per game.

“They’re one that will hit you quick with the big play, whether it’s running or throwing deep,” Gordon Central coach David Humphreys said. “I think what we have to do is make those guys have more and more plays on their drives.”



Northwest (8-1) at Pickens (6-3)



Both teams remember the sinking feeling of losing at this spot.

Northwest lost 40-37 in triple overtime to Gilmer in one of last season’s two Region 7-4A play-in games to determine the league’s third and fourth playoff berths for the Class 4A state playoffs. Pickens lost 42-0 against Dalton in the other.

One will avenge that feeling. The other will live it all over once again.

“I’m probably not going to mention that,” Northwest coach Josh Robinson said of the heartbreaking loss to end last year. “Some coaches say, ‘We don’t want to remember that.’ Others say, ‘We want to use it as motivation.’”

On the other side, Pickens coach Chris Parker has mentioned the poor showing against Dalton a lot this season.

“For us, where we are at Pickens, it’s exciting for us to be in conversations with some of the teams up there from where we were a few years ago,” he said. “Eventually, we have to learn to win those games. We can’t just be happy to be in them.”

Both teams line up from the spread offense, and Robinson noted Pickens running back Shannon Brooks and quarterback Tanner Brumby as two players who can “bring the ball to the house every single time.” Northwest sports running back Jacob Webb and wide receiver Tevin McDaniel. Webb has 957 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns, and McDaniel has 760 yards receiving and nine touchdowns.

The Bruins have 1,641 yards passing, all from quarterback Caleb Shiflett, and 1,613 rushing this year.

“With play calling, we have about 55 percent runs and 45 percent passes,” Robinson said. “That comes with gaining a lead.”

Northwest won 25-13 when the teams played earlier this year at Bruin Stadium in Tunnel Hill, although Pickens gave Northwest’s offense some trouble with blitzes.

“Any time a team is as good as they are on offense, it’s important you give them a bunch of different looks,” Parker said. “I think, for whatever reason, some of the key plays came from us putting pressure on them.”

If Northwest wins, it clinches the No. 3 seed even if Cedartown (8-1) wins because the Bruins have a better winning percentage versus Class 4A schools. If Pickens wins, it is the No. 3 seed if Ridgeland beats Cedartown but the No. 4 seed if Cedartown wins.



Southeast (4-5) at Cass (3-6)



The lofty expectations Cass had prior to the season drowned in a sea of flashing blue lights in July. That’s when Brandon Etheridge, the team’s all-region quarterback, was arrested by a drug task force for possession of a drug called “Molly,” a street term for an alternative to ecstasy.

A Bartow County School System tribunal determined that Etheridge, a three-year starter responsible for 2,300 yards as a junior, violated school policy and banned him from playing his senior year.

“That changed the makeup of our whole team,” said Colonels coach Rick Casko, who replaced Etheridge with freshman Trevor Lowe. “Trevor wants to be good and will be good, but you can’t coach experience.”

Lowe is a key to the Colonels’ hopes of finishing on a good note when they play Southeast in a Region 7-4A crossover game as a season of woe comes to an end. Cass hasn’t played since losing 54-28 to Cedartown on Oct. 25 without four starters suspended after being ejected from the team’s previous game. Six Cass losses came to opponents with a combined 46-8 record and were a collective 19-4 at the time they played the Colonels.

Southeast  has something at stake in the finale, too. A victory would mean a .500 record for only the fourth time since 1986, the school’s last winning season.

“It would be good to win and go into the offseason with a good attitude,” coach Sean Gray said.



— Compiled by sports writers Chris Whitfield and Devin Golden and correspondents Larry Fleming and Dave Gordon.