September 6, 2013

No easy path to victory

Cats hit road for Calhoun, and Southeast, Coahulla look for 2-0 starts

The Daily Citizen
sports@daltoncitizen.com

— The last time Dalton High School’s football team started a season with two losses was 1975.

But Catamounts coach Matt Land finds such trivia trivial — especially this early in the season.

“It’s the first time I’ve heard that, so it’s not in our mind,” said Land, a Dalton graduate who was a longtime assistant before taking over as head coach in 2010.

Still, starting with an 0-2 record is a real possibility for Dalton, which heads south to state-level power Calhoun tonight for a cross-classification matchup with the Yellow Jackets at Phil Reeve Stadium. The Cats were off last week after opening the season with a 33-27 triple-overtime loss to Ringgold on Aug. 23.

In tonight’s other games involving area programs, Christian Heri-tage is at Murray County, Coahulla Creek is at Gordon Lee, North Murray hosts Dade County and Southeast Whitfield welcomes Gordon Central.

All kickoffs are at 7:30 p.m.

Calhoun has reached the Class 2A state title game each of the past five seasons — the Yellow Jackets’ lone win during that stretch was in 2011 — and is a unanimous No. 1 in the Georgia Sports Writers Association’s Class 2A poll this week.

On top of that, the Yellow Jackets (1-0) have won four consecutive meetings with Dalton, a Class 4A program.

But just as Land’s not paying much attention to history concerning this year’s Dalton team, neither is Calhoun coach Hal Lamb when it comes to his Yellow Jackets, who kicked off their 2013 schedule last week with a 37-0 thrashing of Ridgeland — which advanced to last year’s Class 4A state championship game.

“First of all, it really doesn’t matter what the records are when these two teams play,” said Lamb, who is in his 15th season at the program and has a record of 158-29 in that time. “It’s a rivalry that goes back a lot longer before I got here.”

That rivalry was long heavily tilted in Dalton’s favor, though. According to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association website (ghsfha.org), Dalton leads the all-time series 34-7-1, with Calhoun making up ground by winning five of seven meetings since the rivalry resumed in 2006 after a 17-year layoff.

All of that means little to Dalton and Land, who is ultimately looking toward league play and the goal of a region title. Dalton’s Sub-region 7B-4A schedule begins Oct. 4 at home versus Ridgeland.

“We want to win every game we play, but the reality is our true season — the one that establishes our goal — technically doesn’t start until we play Ridgeland,” Land said.

That doesn’t mean Dalton is happy with losing two weeks ago to Ringgold, the first time that had happened in 30 years.

“The whole team is hungry, especially after a loss to Ringgold,” senior free safety Nathan Bryant said.

Last season, Calhoun won a 55-41 shootout in which Dalton fumbled the opening kickoff to set up an early Yellow Jackets field goal and lead. That loss gave last year’s senior class the dubious distinction of being the first in program history to lose four times to Calhoun. This year’s senior group faces the same potential outcome.

“We don’t want to be another (class) to lose each time to them,” senior cornerback Chris Childs said. “We hurt ourselves with mistakes on special teams.”

Special teams were costly against Ringgold, too. Two blocked extra-point attempts and a blocked punt are part of the reason for that bad taste. Land said the team works on special teams 15-25 minutes each practice. He also said that the time wasn’t increased during the past two weeks’ practices.

Kelvis Rhodes, Dalton’s junior running back who gained more than 1,500 yards as a sophomore, didn’t dress out against Ringgold because of a lingering injury from the offseason. Land classified him as a “game-time decision” for the second straight game and did not make him available for comment. Wide receiver Tyler Britton, a junior, has a broken growth plate and also is questionable.

In Rhodes’ absence, sophomore Tyler Noland started at tailback and rushed for 123 yards on 17 carries

“I don’t know the status on the kid but we’re going to plan for him to be there,” Lamb said of Rhodes, who scored six touchdowns in last year’s game. “Their offense is not going to change.”



Christian Heritage (0-1) at Murray County (0-1)



Murray County’s quest to end a 19-game losing streak will go on without a valuable member of the Indians’ senior class. Clay Thornbury — a standout two-way lineman and one of just four seniors who has been part of the team the past three years — is out for the remainder of the season.

Thornbury, an offensive guard and defensive tackle, suffered a knee injury in the first quarter of last week’s season-opening 35-9 defeat at Coahulla Creek.

“Clay was our best lineman by far,” Indians coach Chad Brewer said. “It’s so sad because as a senior he had been with the program for four years. He was on every special team. He was in great shape. He is irreplaceable.”

Two players will try to fill the void — senior Seth Gilbert on defense and sophomore Diego Leon on offense.

“We still have to line up and play against a good Christian Heritage team,” Brewer said. “If we come out and play like we did in the second half last week, I can’t ask for any more.”

The Indians, who have struggled to even avoid a running clock in the fourth quarter in recent seasons, were competitive at times against Coahulla Creek, cutting the lead to 21-9 in the fourth quarter.

Lions coach Preston Poag anticipates a much closer clash than last year’s 55-7 waltz past the Indians.

“Chad has them playing hard in his first year there,” Poag said. “We’ll have our hands full. We have to hold onto the ball.”

Five turnovers proved Christian Heritage’s undoing in a season-opening 35-28 setback to Model.

Lions quarterback Trevor Brown threw four touchdown passes — three went to Nich Bartley, who had 10 receptions for 222 yards — in that game.



Coahulla Creek (1-0) at Gordon Lee (1-0)



If the Colts want to win back-to-back games for the first time in two years of varsity football, they’ll have to contain Gordon Lee running back Zack Cobb.

The Trojans senior rushed for 216 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in last week’s 33-7 win against Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe. He also made six tackles from his cornerback spot.

“They ran the ball extremely well,” Coahulla Creek coach Jaren Hamlin said. “They are very physical. Cobb is pretty tough, and it is the same way defensively. They fly around to the ball and are very physical.”

Gordon Lee coach Charles Wiggins said that while his team has had success running the ball in both a scrimmage and the season opener, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

“We basically have four new starters up front,” Wiggins said of his offensive line. “You never know what you are going to get from them this week. They adapted well on the run and gave our backs a chance last week.

“Our deal is fixing ourselves. It is much like an English teacher with a paper. It is a thing that you can always make a little better.”

Coahulla Creek will counter with a running game sparked by Cameron Burton, who had 132 yards on 16 carries against Murray County last week, and quarterback Blaine Williams, who accounted for 180 yards of total offense.

But like most coaches at the beginning of the season, Hamlin saw a lot more things his team didn’t do.

“We have to cut out mental mistakes ... penalties and turnovers,” Hamlin said. “We had two touchdowns called back off of penalties and a couple of other things that held us back. We left a lot of opportunities on the field that we can’t do this week.”



Dade County (0-1) at North Murray (0-1)



The Mountaineers are another team hoping to eradicate a bad taste in their mouths.

North Murray spent this past Friday searching for answers in a 35-12 loss to Southeast, and now the team hopes to regain some of the offensive magic it had last season as it welcomes Dade County to Chatsworth.

The Mountaineers scored 57 points against the Wolverines in 2012, winning by 13 to clinch a 2-0 start and guarantee the best record in program history. North Murray had won just one game total in two previous varsity seasons before last year.

“I think we scored about 30 in the third quarter,” North Murray coach David Gann said.

And don’t think Dade County has forgotten, either.

“So hopefully they remember it and play better on defense,” Wolverines coach Bradley Warren said.

Dade County lost 19-13 last week to Alabama’s North Sand Mountain. The Wolverines return seven starters on defense and five on offense from last season, while the Mountaineers have three returning on defense and just two on offense.

“It’s pretty similar to the Dade County team we played last year,” Gann said. “Offensively, they’re a smash-mouth kind of football team and defensively they like getting to the ball.”

The loss to Southeast included many mistakes for the young North Murray team, which has just 10 seniors on the roster. After returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown, the Mountaineers only gained 170 yards on offense and allowed 323, including 250 on the ground.

“Our biggest problem right now is just ourselves,” Gann said. “I hate (saying) ‘We’re young and inexperienced’ because eventually that goes away.”



Gordon Central (0-1) at Southeast Whitfield (1-0)



The weather in northwest Georgia feels like mid-summer even though fall is weeks away, and high school football players are feeling the effects of that heat in practices and games.

Southeast coach Sean Gray’s Raiders — who are trying to start the season 2-0 for the first time since 1989 — will look for the offense to turn up the temperature against the Warriors tonight.

Gordon Central coach David Humphreys knows how much warm temperatures on game night— and thus, conditioning — can factor in as the clock rolls toward the fourth quarter. A mild summer didn’t give teams a chance to acclimate as well as some in the past.

“Last Friday was really the first time the humidity really jumped on us, and we really hadn’t practiced all summer in any kind of heat at all ... really until the last two days last week,” Humphreys said. “That took its toll on us a little bit, especially mentally.”

Gray’s defense turned it up a degree to hold North Murray to less than 200 total yards last week, something he hopes the team can continue. One of the defensive leaders against North Murray was senior linebacker Austin Allen, who led the team with 16 tackles.

“He’s an outstanding athlete. He’s very tough and physical,” Gray said of Allen, who also wrestles. “He hasn’t played until this season. Our entire defense really set the tone for the game. We swarmed to the football and we picked up right where we left off last year.”

With that strong defensive play, Gray is hoping for a continuation of opening night: a 35-point offensive output and a total team effort.

“We averaged 6 yards a play last week, and we ran the ball extremely well,” Gray said. “We had 12 different kids touch the football, and five different kids scored a touchdown. I feel like we really have some depth on the offensive side of the ball.”



— Compiled by sports writers Devin Golden and Chris Whitfield and correspondents Doug Hawley and Dave Gordon.