It didn’t matter who recovered the fumble, or even which team.
All that mattered was the play was over and the game was over — and with it, Dalton High School’s long run of success in its long-running football series with Ringgold.
A triple-overtime thriller to kick off the 2013 season at Dalton’s Harmon Field ended with a 33-27 victory for the visiting Tigers.
They stopped a streak of 27 straight losses to the Catamounts — who still lead the all-time series 43-2 — after the home team failed to convert in a do-or-die fourth-down situation.
For Georgia High School Association programs, in overtime each team gets a possession from the defense’s 15-yard line. After each team has a possession — first downs can be gained — if the score remains tied, there is another round of overtime handled in the same manner, although the opposite team gets possession first. In the third overtime, teams cannot try an extra-point attempt, but must go for a 2-point conversion instead.
Ringgold, which had the first possession in the third overtime, got its final score on a 1-yard quarterback sneak from senior quarterback Slade Dale, who finished the game with 225 rushing yards and three touchdowns. But a two-point conversion pass failed, leaving Dalton a chance to win, lose or tie once more.
After two runs netting 2 yards and one incomplete pass, the Cats were in fourth-and-8 at Ringgold’s 13-yard line. Dalton’s last play was a designed halfback pass — with Jase Chastain playing the halfback role — but he didn’t catch the pitch from quarterback Payton Veraldi, and both he and a Ringgold player dove on the ball, ending the game.
Dalton will travel Sept. 6 to play Calhoun, which reached the Class 2A state title game each of the past five seasons.
Cats coach Matt Land referenced his team’s 35-13 loss to Sandy Creek in the second round of last year’s Class 4A state playoffs for perspective on the season-opening loss, which won’t hurt Dalton in the league standings — the Cats are in Sub-region 7B-4A, Ringgold is in Region 5-3A — but certainly hurt.
“I wanted my players to know I hurt for them,” Land said. “To lose a close game like that, particularly one that you feel you should’ve won, I hurt for them. You lose to Sandy Creek, you know, you tried your best but got beat by a better team. It’s hard to lose a game you should’ve won.”
Ringgold, meanwhile, did something it last accomplished in 1983.
“We are wore out, but this is the best feeling in the world,” Dale said. “This game will go down in Ringgold history.”
Ringgold junior running back D.L. Goins — who played the first half of the 2012 season at Dalton before transferring and playing with the Tigers the rest of the way — scored Friday’s first touchdown, a 73-yard run nearly five minutes into the game.
But the magician for Ringgold was Dale. Running the read option with Goins and running back Kile Sholl, Dale often made Dalton defenders miss tackles and he scrambled for positive yardage when his protection broke down. He only threw the ball 14 times, completing five passes for 63 yards, and was intercepted twice by Dalton sophomore safety Jordon McKinney.
“It’s very disappointing when you know exactly what’s going to happen and exactly who will get the ball,” Land said, “and the guy still is able to make plays. ... Hats off to the quarterback there.”
Dalton tied the game at 7-7 on the final play of the first half, a 1-yard run from Chastain. The Cats then took a 14-7 lead with 6:34 left in the third quarter on a 2-yard run from Veraldi, who finished with 70 yards rushing and split time at quarterback with Chastain. Dale’s 12-yard run with 7:15 left tied the fourth quarter at 14-all, and both teams had two possessions before regulation time expired.
On Dalton’s last possession of the quarter, a 70-yard run from running back Tyler Noland was called back for an illegal block. The run would’ve put Dalton at the Ringgold 23 and in field goal territory with a chance to win the game. The flag put the Cats on their own 39 and the drive ended in a punt.
“We had numerous chances to put them away and didn’t do it,” Land said. “That’s the sign of a young team. ... We’re going to have to mature and mature quick.”
Noland, who was filling in for injured starter Kelvis Rhodes, finished with 125 yards on 16 carries.
“I went in the locker room and I just sat down and was mad at myself,” Noland said. “I was discouraged. ... All our team did good. We executed fine. If I could take one play back, it’d be the long run.”
Regulation finished with the score tied 14-14, but each team scored a touchdown in each of the first two overtimes. Goins scored from 5 yards away, and Chastain scored on a 2-yard run to tie the game. In the second overtime, Dalton had the ball first and Veraldi scored from 7 yards out, but the extra-point attempt by Kiko Rodriguez was blocked.
Ringgold’s Dale scored from 14 yards away, but the extra-point try from Chris Watts also was blocked.