December 11, 2013

Room for one: Cats’ football slate is region-heavy

Devin Golden

— The Dalton High School football team’s chances of avoiding another sub-divided region for the next two seasons have increased.

Catamounts coach Matt Land confirmed Tuesday that the principals from the schools in the Georgia High School Association’s newly aligned Region 5-5A for the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years recently met and voted to play a full region schedule.

During the past six seasons in Region 7-3A and Region 7-4A, Dalton has played in a sub-divided region, never facing all of the teams in the region in a single season and playing crossover games — in which teams from one side of the region play opponents from the opposite side — in the final week of the regular season to determine seeding for the state playoffs.

In the new format, Dalton will play each of the other nine league foes, leaving no potential matchup left to the imagination.

“The thing I like about the full region is you don’t leave any doubt at the end of the year,” Land said, noting the 70 percent approval per GHSA rules was met in the principals’ vote. “When you play this way, it gives you a chance to play and beat everybody.”

The plan to play a full region schedule is for football only. As of now, the remainder of sports in the new region will compete in sub-regions.

This past football season, Dalton was in Sub-region 7B-4A and did not play three members of Region 7-4A — Cedartown, Pickens and River Ridge.

Every two years, GHSA schools go through reclassification as schools are divided into six classes based on student enrollment numbers.

Classification assignments were announced in November, and tentative region alignments were released last week, but region alignments won’t be final until the GHSA executive committee meets on Jan. 14.

Schools have until Saturday to appeal their placement in a region. Schools are allowed to request a lateral move to another region, so the entire Region 5 landscape could change if schools are added, taken out or replaced. The GHSA requires regions with 12 or more teams to be sub-divided.

Dalton’s projected region includes Allatoona, Cass, East Paulding, Hiram, Paulding County, Rome, South Paulding, Villa Rica and Woodland-Bartow. Originally, the region was to be sub-divided with Dalton in Sub-region 5A with Allatoona, Cass, Rome and Woodland-Bartow. East Paulding, Hiram, Paulding County, South Paulding and Villa Rica would have been in Sub-region 5B.

Dalton’s nearest region opponent is Bartow County’s Cass, which is 43 miles away, according to Google Maps.

Geographically divided sub-regions allow for teams to reduce travel and play the half of their region nearest to them. Other mileage for the Catamounts is 45 miles to Rome, 58 miles to Woodland and 60 miles to Allatoona.

Now, Dalton would travel further south to some of the four schools located in Paulding County and Villa Rica, which straddles Carroll and Douglas counties.

Cass was with Dalton in Region 7-4A this past season — although in Sub-region 7B-4A — and missed the state playoffs. The other eight teams in the new Region 5-5A all were in Region 5-5A and played one another the past two seasons. This year, Allatoona, East Paulding and South Paulding reached the state playoffs. South Paulding and East Paulding reached the second round, while Allatoona lost in the first round. North Paulding reached the playoffs as well, but will move to Class 6A because of reclassification.

“There will be a lot of stiff competition,” Land said of Dalton’s new region. “If I look top to bottom in the region — and I think we were ranked the second-toughest region in terms of competition in Class 5A — when we come out of the region, we’ll be battle-tested.”

Land was referring to the recent Maxwell Computer rankings of all of the state’s regions, which were published in the Georgia High School Football Daily newsletter (ghsfdaily. com).

In the sub-divided format, each team plays each fellow sub-region team but also plays crossover games, as many coaches refer to them, against teams from the other half of the region. Football teams must have 70 percent of their schedule filled against region foes, according to the GHSA’s Constitution and By-Laws, meaning that for a five-team sub-region, three games would have to come from the other sub-region.

Each region can have differing methods for determining the region’s four state playoff berths. During the past four seasons for the Cats, each sub-region champ was guaranteed a state playoff spot, at least one home postseason game and played for the region title, which Dalton won this season against Gilmer.

The second-place team from Sub-region 7B-4A played the third-place team from Sub-region 7A-4A and vice versa to determine who secured the third and fourth spots in the state playoffs.

In the full-region format, Dalton would have one non-region game open on its schedule. Possibilities include rivals such as Calhoun and Northwest Whitfield.

Two years ago, Dalton was the first visiting team to play at Ringgold’s newly rebuilt stadium. The game took place one week before the majority of teams in the state started their seasons, a period referred to as “week zero” by coaches that requires a special waiver from the GHSA. Playing again during that week is a possibility, Land said.

“We would only have one (non-region) game,” Land said, “but we can play on week one or week zero.”