March 7, 2014

Prep football: Cats will kick off in Alabama

By Chris Whitfield

— Faced with a scheduling quandary after going through three different rounds of region realignment by the Georgia High School Association, Dalton High School football coach Matt Land relied on his Auburn University ties.

Land said the Catamounts will kick off the 2014 football season taking on a team coached by a former teammate of his with the Tigers.

Former Auburn quarterback and Georgia Tech and University of Miami offensive coordinator Patrick Nix is now the head coach at Scottsboro (Ala.) High School, and the Cats will travel there on Aug. 22 for the season opener.

The GHSA gave approval to the out-of-state game earlier this week. It is the first time that Dalton has played an out-of-state opponent since beating Chattanooga’s McCallie School 21-7 in 1988, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association website ( Georgia and Tennessee high schools go through reclassification and scheduling every two years and are not in sync with those cycles. Alabama and Georgia high schools both go through reclassification in odd-numbered years.

“Both teams were sort of in the same boat with some uncertainty in our scheduling,” Land said. “They weren’t sure exactly where they were going to be reclassified. Alabama went to seven classifications, but when everything got settled, it was a great opportunity for both programs, I think.”

The teams will play a home-and-home series over the next two seasons with the possibility of more games in the future. This year’s game will kick off at 7 p.m. Central time.

In the latest round of reclassification, Dalton was moved into Class 5A and will lose many of its games against nearby schools, including Southeast Whitfield, Ridgeland and Ringgold. However, the Cats have managed to keep two of their biggest rivals on the schedule in some fashion.

Dalton will scrimmage North-west Whitfield in Tunnel Hill on Aug. 9 — a Saturday — and the Cats’ first home game of the season will be Aug. 29 against Calhoun at Harmon Field, giving Dalton what should be at least one big home gate going into a new Region 7-5A that stretches from Dalton down to north Atlanta.

After the Calhoun game, Dalton will have an open week followed by two home games — a region crossover game against North Atlanta (Sept. 12) and a Sub-region 7A-5A opener with Cass (Sept. 19). The remainder of the schedule is made up of sub-region contests — at Sequoyah (Sept. 26), versus Creekview (Oct. 3), at Rome (Oct. 10), versus River Ridge (Oct. 17) and at Woodland-Bartow (Oct. 24). Dalton will have an open date on Oct. 31 and will play in the region crossover games that determine final region standings (and seedings for state playoffs) in the final game of the regular season on the road on Nov. 7.

In the season opener, the Catamounts will face a Scottsboro team that rebounded in Nix’s first season as head coach. The Wildcats were 7-4 in 2013 after going 2-8 the previous year.

“At the end of the day, it is a great opportunity to gauge where we are as a team,” Land said. “It gives us a great goal in the offseason to work towards that isn’t just an everyday game. I think that it will be fun for both communities. We are so similar as far as football towns with a lot of tradition in each place.”

Like Dalton, Scottsboro won its one state championship in the 1960s, and both have historic programs with Scottsboro celebrating its 100th year of football this season.

Nix was a quarterback at Auburn under coach Terry Bowden from 1992-95 and is the son of former Northside-Warner Robins head coach Conrad Nix, who has a 260-65 record in 27 seasons as a head coach in Georgia. Conrad Nix won state titles at Northside in 2006 and 2007 and is an assistant coach for his son at Scottsboro