Dalton High School Catamounts

May 9, 2014

Prep boys soccer: Different routes for Dalton, SE

The boys soccer teams at Dalton and Southeast Whitfield high schools are eyeing a return to the Class 4A state title game.

But while they share a common ambition, the routes the Catamounts and Raiders must take to reach the championship on May 17 at Kennesaw State University are taking a different turn tonight.

Dalton (19-0-1), the No. 1 team in the eurosportscoreboard.com Class 4A rankings, and No. 8 Southeast (13-5-2) will both be in action in the state quarterfinals. The Cats will enjoy the friendly confines of their own Harmon Field for the third straight round of state as they host fourth-ranked Perry (16-3) at 6 p.m., but after two home games, the Raiders face a nearly 300-mile ride south to Statesboro (15-2) for their 7:30 p.m. match.

Southeast can look back to last season when it comes to being ready for the road, though. On their way to finishing runner-up to Dalton in last season’s title game at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton, the Raiders didn’t host a game in the state playoffs. That was the result of finishing No. 3 in Region 7-4A in 2013. This year, the Raiders were runners-up to Dalton in the league.

“From Carrollton back to Dutchtown and then Chamblee, we were on the road all the time last year, so it is nothing new to these guys,” Southeast coach Kevin Kettenring said. “It is fun. This is not hard work. This is fun. It is another platform for these guys to do what they love to do. All of the games and the practices, there are a smile on their faces.”

Smiles may be there, but that doesn’t keep Kettenring from worrying. With end-of-year testing going on at school and the logistics of an overnight trip to southeast Georgia, the coach said when he is finally able to focus solely on the soccer he will be at peace.

“Trying to keep everyone focused on what could be a six-hour trip and fighting to line up a bus and driver, all of that has been a headache,” Kettenring said.

“There are just too many questions when you drive through Atlanta. You just never know. One little thing and it could mess everything up.

“Once I get south of Atlanta, I will feel a lot better and be ready to focus on soccer.”

While teams in Murray and Whitfield counties have enjoyed strong representation in state tournaments in recent seasons — seven of eight boys teams advanced this year — the soccer in Statesboro hasn’t had such a strong pedigree. The Blue Devils are making just their second appearance in the state quarterfinals in the past 25 years.

Southeast is in the quarterfinals for the sixth time in seven seasons and reached the state title game in 2008 in addition to last year’s runner-up finish. But Kettenring isn’t banking on history.

“They know that what they have done is in the past,” Kettenring said. “There is nothing there to hang on the wall, no championship banners. These guys are still hungry and that keeps them fueled. There is no settling, and it still looms on the horizon to win a state championship.”

Southeast advanced to this year’s quarterfinals with a 3-1 win over Columbus in the opening round and a 5-0 victory over Lumpkin County on Tuesday. Statesboro, the Region 3 champion, beat Westover 7-0 in the first round and took a 4-2 overtime victory over visiting Jonesboro on Tuesday. In that second-round victory, the Blue Devils rallied twice and scored a pair of goals in overtime to beat the Cardinals.

Statesboro is the lone Region 3 team to advance past the first round.

“We don’t know much about them at all. They have an impressive record, and it is way down there (to Statesboro),” Kettenring said.

He did acknowledge that the Blue Devils’ 5-0 victory early in the season over Toombs County — which is in the Class 2A quarterfinals — was a “quality win.”

“We know we will have our hands full,” Kettenring said.

Dalton carries a 42-game unbeaten streak into tonight’s match — the Cats’ only tie during that time was a 2-2 result versus Dobyns-Bennett (Kingsport, Tenn.) in a tournament earlier this season — and will face a team that shares Southeast’s affinity for set plays.

The Raiders have benefited from corner kicks and throw-ins during the first two rounds of state, and so has Perry. The Region 2-4A champion Panthers beat Worth County 2-1 on Tuesday with a pair of header goals from Max Merritt. Perry’s Colt Armistead was responsible for putting the ball into the middle with strong throws from the sidelines.

“That is definitely a huge offensive weapon,” Perry coach Nathan Dooley told The (Macon) Telegraph. “He was a huge difference-maker. That is what I told him at halftime, to keep putting it in the box. It’s tough for a defense when you have a guy who can throw it in the box like that.”

Perry beat Woodland-Henry 6-0 in the opening round.

Dalton, which is in the state playoffs for the 14th straight year, picked up an 11-1 mercy-rule victory over Sandy Creek in the first round and beat Lanier 3-0 on Tuesday.

“It was kind of a wake-up call for us (Tuesday),” Dalton coach Matt Cheaves said. “We didn’t feel like we played that great and we know we can do better. It makes us refocus. You have to be fully intense and on top of your game. Perry is a pretty good team with a good record and a strong team. This is the quarterfinals, so you expect the best.”

Cheaves said he hopes the closer-than-expected win over Lanier will take away any feelings of complacency from his team.

“We just need to make sure that we are consistent in what we do and consistently improve,” Cheaves said. “That has been the challenge we have worked on. I think we recognize the areas where we need to improve and continually move forward and not be stagnant.”

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