September 20, 2013

Rhodes, Cats back in action

Bruins out to avenge last year’s loss to Cass

From Sports Staff
sports@daltoncitizen.com

— Dalton High School tailback Kelvis Rhodes — and presumably his speed, power and production — will be back on the field tonight.

“There are still a couple of guys who may miss the game,” Catamounts coach Matt Land said when asked about injuries coming into tonight’s game with Gilmer at Harmon Field. “But to answer your real question, Kelvis should be with us this week. I fully expect him to play against Gilmer.”

Rhodes, who has been recovering from a lingering preseason shoulder injury, was classified by Land as a game-time decision for Dalton’s first two contests. But two losses and four weeks later, Rhodes has yet to carry the ball.

In other high school football games involving area teams tonight, Christian Heritage welcomes Fellowship Christian, Coahulla Creek will be visited by Sonoraville, Murray County hosts Armuchee, North Murray is at Cartersville and Northwest Whitfield is at Cass. All kickoffs are at 7:30 p.m.

For Dalton, although backup Tyler Noland has averaged more than 5 yards per carry in Rhodes’ absence, the Cats have lacked the explosive element in the running game that Rhodes brought last season as he rushed for 1,529 yards and 18 touchdowns. Dalton’s offense was shut out in a 17-2 loss at Calhoun two weeks ago and it scored just 14 points in regulation against Ringgold in a 33-27 triple-overtime loss on Aug. 23.

Land fully expects Rhodes to provide a boost to the offense.

“Calhoun knew without Kelvis they could stack the middle of the defense,” Land said “We don’t have the speed to get to the corner as well as we do with Kelvis. With him back, a lot of those plays would have been a lot more productive.”

However, Land also sees value in having Noland in the backfield, as well as sophomore Jase Chastain, who has lined up at both quarterback and tailback this season.

“With Tyler Noland, you can’t really complain with a kid who rushed for more than 100 yards against Ringgold. Hopefully, we can now have a two-headed running attack. With Jase, we actually have three guys we feel comfortable with, and that is a good thing.”

Gilmer is off to a 3-0 start for the third straight year, but Bobcats coach Wesley Tankersley said his team will have its hands full with the speedy Rhodes returning.

“He can bust one at any time,” Tankersley said. “He is that type of back. With him in there, they are definitely going to be a lot harder to handle. Looking at film, they haven’t won yet, but remember the competition. You have to take that into account. I think our players understand who Dalton is.”

Running out of their wing-T offense, the Bobcats have been keyed by junior quarterback Chris James, who has brought an added dimension to the usually run-based Gilmer offense. The 6-foot-3-inch, 205-pound James threw for 240 yards in the season opener, and the Bobcats have even run some shotgun sets this year.

But pass production has been hit or miss. Last Friday against South-east, Gilmer had 349 yards of total offense with 308 coming on the ground. Fullback Tyler Bertolini — the only returning skill player from 2012 — finished with 30 carries, 196 yards and two touchdowns in the 18-6 win over the Raiders.



Fellowship Christian (3-0)

at Christian Heritage (2-1)




With Fellowship Christian and Christian Heritage — two of the highest-scoring teams in Class A this season, according to ga.prepcountry. com — clashing at Lions Stadium, somebody better play a little defense.

Lions coach Preston Poag believes his team can handle that chore.

“We’re playing good defense,” Poag said. “But we have to execute and do what we’re supposed to do.”

A year ago, Christian Heritage pitched a shutout in a 48-0 rout of the Paladins, who went 2-8 but were blanked only one other time in 2012. The Paladins’ offense scored 15.7 points per game, but their defense gave up an average of 38.7 points last season.

“Our defense has made some progress,” said Paladins coach Al Morrell, who led the program at Creekview High School from its beginning in 2006 until last season.

Fellowship has won its three games this year by an average score of 42.7-12.3. The offensive unit has been spurred by a pair of seniors — quarterback Hunter Bryant, who has 449 passing yards and seven touchdowns, and running back Taylor Cookson, who has 228 yards on 18 carries and two touchdowns.

But Morrell expects a challenge from Christian Heritage, which has yielded just nine points over the past two games.

“They don’t give you many holes,” Morrell said.

Offensively for the Lions, running back Ahmaad Tanner and fullback Austin Lowe are each averaging 10 yards per carry, quarterback Trevor Brown has passed for 774 yards and nine scores, and receiver Nich Bartley has snagged 23 passes for 482 yards and six touchdowns.



Sonoraville (0-3) at

Coahulla Creek (1-2)




Opening the season with three out of four games at home can have its advantages, one of which is playing in front of a friendly crowd.

Tonight, as they open Region 5-3A competition, the Colts will try to seize that opportunity and duplicate something more like their season opener — a 35-9 win against Murray County — than last week’s 27-9 loss to Christian Heritage.

Despite its success against Murray County, Coahulla Creek hasn’t been able to put together a complete game since. The Colts have shown glimpses of success, but they have also been slowed by self-inflicted setbacks once things get going on offense and at times have lacked focus on defense.

Last week’s loss to the Lions is one thing Colts coach Jared Hamlin cites in making that case.

“We left 17 points out on the field in the first half,” Hamlin said. “We had a bad snap on the field goal attempt that I’m real confident we would have made. Getting stuffed at the 1 on fourth down and having a fumble inside the 10 on our first two drives really hurt us. We’ve just got to do a better job at keeping our focus.”

The emphasis for the Colts on defense will be shutting down Sonoraville’s Andrew Slaton, a 6-foot-1-inch, 185-pound junior running back, and 6-foot-5-inch, 205-pound receiver Clark Johnson, both of whom have the ability to make big plays.

“(Slaton), he’s fast,” Hamlin said. “He won the region in the 100 last year I believe. We can’t let him get loose.”

On offense, the Colts will continue to rely on the arm of senior quarterback Blaine Williams, who has passed for a touchdown and run for two more, although he has also thrown five interceptions. Williams’ favorite targets have been seniors Levi Wilson (11 catches for 137 yards) and Erick Dominguez (nine catches for 138 yards).



Armuchee (0-3) at

Murray County (1-2)




Murray County coach Chad Brewer understands that last week’s 14-12 victory at Gordon Central was a big one for his Indians, who snapped a streak of 27 games without a win on the field.

But he has walked a fine line between letting his team celebrate a win that was a long time coming and reminding them that one win doesn’t make a season.

“I am afraid we are on cloud nine and may not be able to come down,” Brewer said. “That is a tough thing for a coach. Do you try to kill their excitement and refocus them, or do you let them celebrate?

“We took the approach that they have been working very hard for this moment, so we let them enjoy it over the weekend and all day at school, but we tried to focus them on Monday at practice. People are still talking about it in the school with the teachers and kids, but we still understand that we have seven more region games to go.”

This is the Region 7-2A opener for both teams, and the chances for Murray County to go for back-to-back wins would certainly seem to be in its favor against winless Armuchee, which has hurt itself with turnovers. In a 6-2 loss to Gordon Lee last week, Armuchee threw four interceptions and lost two fumbles. Earlier, Armuchee had four turnovers against Adairsville.

“Turnovers have really seemed to plague us,” Armuchee coach Preston Cash said. “We have to cut down on that for us to have a chance. What I really like is our effort, but we have to protect the ball better to give ourselves a better chance to win.”

Like Murray County, a lot of Armuchee’s players will be seeing time on both sides of the ball. Seniors Austin Gurley (defensive end/fullback), Dylan Cockerham (offensive and defensive lines) and Dawson Littlejohn (middle linebacker/tight end) will key its attack.



North Murray (1-2)

at Cartersville (3-0)




Getting a win last week was big for the Mountaineers — especially considering who they face next.

The Purple Hurricanes are ranked third in the Georgia Sports Writers Association’s Class 3A poll, have won 16 of their past 17 games starting with the 2012 season opener and reached the state semifinals a year ago.

North Murray beat Johnson-Gainesville 34-7 last week for its first victory this season. With Cartersville and the rest of the Region 5-3A schedule looming, getting the first victory became a priority, Mountaineers coach David Gann said.

“Anytime you can get a win, whether it was a scrimmage game or a non-region game, it’s important for confidence for the kids,” Gann said. “We needed that win for confidence and to show what can happen when you eliminate a lot of mistakes.”

North Murray led 14-6 midway through the third quarter of last year’s game against Cartersville, but the Purple Hurricanes scored 34 straight points and won 40-22. Quarterback Brooks Barden, the son of Cartersville coach Frank Barden, is back for his senior season.

“We are going to try and bring pressure because he is the type of kid if you let him sit back and throw, then he’ll tear you up,” Gann said.

North Murray running back Drake McCowan (234 yards on 45 carries) and quarterback Hinton McConkey (214 yards on 31 carries) have keyed the Mountaineers’ rushing attack. But Gann expects Cartersville to stack the line and force the Mountaineers’ option-heavy offense to pass.



Northwest (2-0)

at Cass (2-1)




Ahead 17-9 in the fourth quarter and attempting a 29-yard field goal, Northwest seemed to have last year’s game against Cass in control — and the Bruins appeared headed for victory.

Then Cass blocked the kick and returned it for a touchdown, and the Colonels grabbed momentum and a 25-17 win. The win was the first in the series for Cass, which lost the previous 10 meetings with Northwest.

“Obviously the blocked kick was disappointing, but I was more disappointed with how our team responded after that,” Bruins coach Josh Robinson said. “For us, last year’s loss to Cass was probably one of the biggest disappointments of the year.”

This season has started the exact same for both teams as in 2012, with the Bruins winning their first two games and the Colonels starting 2-1 with their loss to Cartersville.

But this year, Northwest would like to make its third game different and the Bruins hope to avoid any late-game letdowns.

After Northwest enjoyed some early offensive success in last week’s 25-13 win against Pickens, the Dragons adjusted on defense by blitzing, which caused trouble for the Bruins. They overcame it eventually by turning to zone read option plays for quarterback Caleb Shiflett, but Robinson wouldn’t be surprised to see other teams take the same approach.

“I feel like after last week people have seen that kind of success from blitzing and I think they’ll go man-to-man and come after us or go zone and come after us,” Robinson said. “We have to be prepared for what they could do on defense.”

Cass coach Rick Casko said his team is preparing for Northwest’s fast-paced, no-huddle offense.

“It’s like anything where you have to prepare for it,” he said. “You have to get lined up quick and get in position, or they have the skill-position players to hurt you.”