Dalton High School’s boys soccer team has made a habit of quick scores to begin halves this season.
The Catamounts are also earning a reputation of winning games, and now they have a shiny trophy to go with it.
Dalton beat Northwest Whitfield 3-1 in the Region 7-4A tournament championship Tuesday night at Harmon Field, with the Cats claiming their first region title since 2010.
It only took 54 seconds for Dalton (17-0) to celebrate for the first time against the Bruins. After trying to establish possession from the kickoff, a Northwest (14-4) defender lost control and put his team on its heels.
After earning a corner kick, Dalton’s Eder Mora struck the ball low to the near post. Andres Barragan made a run to the spot with enough space to flick the ball inside the post and past a wall of defenders along the goal line.
“It is demoralizing to some degree,” Northwest coach Ryan Scoggins said.
“You really have to test your psyche and your mettle to be able to respond to that.”
Ahead 2-1 at halftime, Dalton landed another blow just three minutes into the second half as Alan Pantaleon’s strike from atop the penalty box was just inside the left post and low enough to beat goalkeeper Miguel Deanda.
“We can’t take any minutes off,” said Mora, a sophomore midfielder. “It may be (demoralizing), and I hope so.”
In this past Friday’s semifinals win versus Southeast Whitfield, Pantaleon scored at almost the same time to give the Cats a 2-0 lead.
Ryan Czyz scored in the first 30 seconds of Dalton’s 2-0 win against Southeast a week before. And Czyz scored in the fourth minute of a 3-1 win last month against Northwest.
Dalton’s prestige is going beyond its classification, and even its state.
The Cats are the top-ranked team in eurosportscoreboard.com’s Class 4A poll. Additionally, MaxPreps.com has them as the top team in Georgia and the second best team in the country.
“It’s a target on our back,” Dalton coach Matt Cheaves said. “It’s good for us. People come in and play us tough, and that makes us tougher.”
No one has figured out the formula to beating Dalton, but mistakes like the one Northwest made in the 10th minute definitely aren’t part of the answer.
Dalton’s Ramiro Huitanda crossed the ball in front of Northwest’s goal, and Deanda charged and called for it. However, the Bruins’ Miguel Villa knocked it back to him, mistakenly a little too hard, and it went into the net for an own goal. Huitanda is credited with the score.
“Ramiro is a great player and we gave him too much time on the sideline,” said Scoggins, whose team is fourth in the Class 4A poll and third in MaxPreps’ Georgia ranking. “He crossed it and the keeper made the call. It’s bang-bang.”
Northwest didn’t let up on its relentless pressure of Dalton’s defense. A header by the Bruins’ David Perez in the second minute forced goalkeeper Raymundo Bahena to make a diving save. Giovanni Aguero had a header three minutes later that was a foot wide to the left.
In the 27th minute, Northwest finally scored. Perez made a run down the left side of the field and crossed low and back to the top of the box. Aguero’s first shot was blocked by Bahena, but Aguero captured the rebound and finished.
Northwest is the only team to play Dalton multiple times in the season and score in each match.
“Defensively, we played a good game,” Cheaves said. “I think the mistakes we were making were making it difficult on our defense.
“We were giving the ball back to Northwest and it was putting us on our heels.”
Dalton took 13 shots while Northwest had 12. Bahena made nine saves, with Deanda making seven.
While both teams had already secured at least one home match in the Class 4A state playoffs, the Cats now have at least two. Both teams, along with No. 3 Southeast, will play first-round matches next Wednesday.
If Dalton and Northwest meet again this season, it would be for the state championship.
• Southeast boys 2, River Ridge 0: After going more than 60 minutes with no score, Southeast coach Kevin Kettenring was waiting for something — anything — to happen. When it finally did, he was just glad the lucky bounce went his team’s way.
The Raiders (9-4-1) broke the ice with a River Ridge own goal off of a throw-in from Victor Garcia in the 23rd minute of the second half en route to the victory to secure the No. 3 seed from Region 7-4A for the state playoffs.
David Gonzalez scored Southeast’s second goal with less than three minutes left to play off of an assist from Alex Rosillo, but Kettenring said the misfire from River Ridge turned everything.
“We would have taken anything at that point being scoreless that deep in the match,” Kettenring said. “This time of the season you would like to click in with more goals, but we just didn’t finish some of those chances off.
“On the road, it was a good win,” he said.
Goalie Abel Mendiola had seven saves while collecting the shutout, and the Raiders had 18 shots on goal.
• Northwest girls 4, Cass 0: In the third-place match of the girls tournament, the Lady Bruins were solid throughout to bounce back from a semifinals loss on the road with a blowout victory at home.
Andrea Garcia and Nancy Paz each scored twice to lead Northwest, which was up 2-0 at halftime.
Juliana Gomez set up one of Paz’s scores, with the other coming on a corner kick Paz curved into the net.
Gracie Holmes recorded six saves in goal to earn the shutout for the Lady Bruins (11-3), who took 18 shots on goal.
Northwest will travel as the No. 3 seed for Region 7 when the Class 4A state playoffs begin next week.
It will be the first state tournament match in Lady Bruins history.
“I think they’re very excited, very pumped after tonight’s game,” North-west coach Anna Stutts said. “I told them that would probably be the last time the seniors would play here, so I told them all to leave it all on the field and I feel like they did.”