One blemish is all that keeps Dalton High School’s boys soccer team’s semifinals opponent from having an undefeated mark like the one sported by the Catamounts.
And one blemish is all that’s needed to ruin a perfect season.
Dalton (20-0) hosts Griffin’s Spalding (18-1) in the Class 4A state semifinals at 6:30 tonight at Harmon Field. Southeast Whitfield (12-4-1) is at Northwest Whitfield (16-5) in the other semifinal at 7 p.m. The winners will meet at 7:30 p.m. Friday for the state championship at Kennesaw State University.
Ranked 10th in eurosportscoreboard.com’s Class 4A poll, Spalding finished 10-0 in league play and won the Region 4-4A title. The Jaguars’ only loss was 2-1 on March 9 to Mary Persons, which lost 5-1 to Northwest this past Friday in the quarterfinals. Since the defeat, the Jaguars have won 15 straight games and outscored opponents 46-10. They’ve allowed 12 goals this season while scoring 52.
“They haven’t allowed a lot of goals and have won many games late,” Cats coach Matt Cheaves said.
Dalton, by comparison, has allowed eight goals and scored 122. The Cats hold the No. 1 ranking in Class 4A and the top ranking in maxpreps.com’s national poll. They won the Region 7-4A championship and have beaten the other two semifinalists three times each. In some games, Dalton has taken the air out of opponents by scoring in the opening five minutes of the first or second halves.
Cheaves is certain that won’t have the same effect on the Jaguars.
“I think this team is a fighter,” he said. “I expect them to be the kind of team that is really persistent.”
The Cats, who haven’t trailed in any game this season, won 10-0 and saw the game ended short of regulation time by the mercy rule in the quarterfinals against Jonesboro, a team Spalding beat 1-0 earlier this season. It was Dalton’s sixth mercy-rule win and second of the state tournament — the first came in the first round against Stone Mountain.
Spalding’s state tournament wins are 5-0 versus Westover, 3-2 against Perry and 2-1 over Alexander. The Jaguars have won nine games by one goal, while the Cats’ lone one-goal win came in the second round against Johnson-Gainesville, which trailed 2-0 but scored in the second half and gave Dalton its closest call.
“In soccer, a two-goal lead is a dangerous thing to have,” Cheaves said. “You can have too much confidence and cushion, and momentum is a big thing with teenagers. The momentum from scoring when behind is big. And in seconds, a team can score and the whole nature of a game can change.”
Cheaves wouldn’t give an edge to either side based on the competitiveness of each’s last match.
“That always varies,” he said. “I think it could work for you either way. Sometimes the confidence (of an easy win) can be false, and sometimes you can have an emotional letdown after winning a close game. But every game is different, so we need to do the things we know.
“I think we just need to work hard, execute well and not go into it with the mindset that this will be a mercy rule game. I’m certain they’re a team that won’t give anything away.”
In last year’s Class 3A state tournament, Spalding lost 4-0 in the second round to Carrollton, which then beat Dalton 2-1 in the quarterfinals. In 2011, the Jaguars didn’t reach the playoffs. In 2010, they lost 4-0 in the first round to Cairo.
“(Spalding coach) Scott Henderson has been around the soccer community his entire life, so I expect them to be a very well-coached team,” Cheaves said.