Based on this year’s results, Dalton High School’s boys soccer team seemingly has no reason to worry about Southeast Whitfield.
And that’s what Southeast’s players want everyone to believe.
Dalton and Southeast will meet for the fourth time this season when they take the field tonight at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton, but this game has a little more at stake. The Georgia High School Association Class 4A state championship will kick off at 7:30.
For most of the season, Dalton (21-0) has held the No. 1 ranking in eurosportscoreboard.com’s Class 4A poll. The Catamounts are second in maxpreps.com’s national poll. Southeast (13-4-1) is ranked seventh in Class 4A.
Raiders coach Kevin Kettenring likens the Cats to a machine.
“They are freakish,” he said, complimenting their skills. “They are well-oiled and well-disciplined and it doesn’t look like they will let anything stop them.”
In the teams’ three meetings this season, the Catamounts have swept to an 8-1 combined score. Their most recent match was in the Region 7-4A tournament semifinals, which Dalton won 3-0 before winning the league title against Northwest Whitfield, which lost 2-0 to Southeast in Wednesday’s state semifinals. Dalton beat Spalding 7-0 in the other semifinals match.
“I know I’d feel a tremendous amount of pressure if we had to play a fourth game with a team that we’ve beaten three times already,” Kettenring said.
And that’s the hope among the Raiders. Defender Isael Gutierrez said “everyone expects them to give us a beating,” and the Raiders obviously hope having a loose approach plays to their advantage.
“We’re going to have to go out and have fun and enjoy the atmosphere,” Gutierrez said. “You don’t get to play in a state championship every day.”
For Dalton, it’s more about taking care of business.
“I just feel like it’s the final and we know what we have to do,” said Cats sophomore center midfielder Eder Mora.
Dalton coach Matt Cheaves said his team has faced pressure all season as a top-ranked team, a position briefly held in the national poll as well. And he believes the hard work will pay off.
“We’ve worked hard,” Cheaves said. “We’ve put in the work. It started in the weight room in the fall. These guys have played for years. They’ve come out here and done everything I’ve asked them to do. For me, that takes all the pressure off and takes away the anxiety. I know we’ve worked and done what we’re supposed to do and prepared. Now we just have to go out there and do it.”
All season, Dalton has shown the ability to score. And then score again. And again. And again.
They’ve outscored their opposition for the year 129-8. In the state tournament alone, that number is 29-1 after beating Stone Mountain 10-0, Johnson-Gainesville 2-1, Jonesboro 10-0 and Spalding 7-0.
“I don’t know what the secret is,” Dalton junior sweeper Salvador Rodriguez said. “We just play our game.”
Southeast midfielder/forward Alex Rosillo believes the best way to stop Dalton is to score first. Aside from a preseason scrimmage against Lassiter that finished tied 1-1, the juggernaut hasn’t trailed in any game this season.
“They’ve never been down before,” Rosillo said. “... They’re going to lose their heads and start fouling us. Yellow cards. Red cards. It’ll be a tough game. It’ll probably have one person from each team get a red card. That’s how I feel.
“In the third game, it took them around 30 minutes to score. I could hear them arguing the entire time because they’ve never been held to 0-0 that long. So I’m thinking if we can score first, it’ll make them put their heads down.”
Another possible factor is the size of the field. Dalton and Southeast are accustomed to playing on narrow fields in stadiums designed for football. Kettenring said Raider Stadium’s field is around 56 yards wide. West Georgia’s stadium field could be around 70 yards wide, he said.
That could limit the effectiveness of deep throw-ins, which both teams use to set up goals in a fashion similar to corner kicks. Southeast scored that way four times in a 6-1 quarterfinals win versus Carrollton.
“It’s a huge part,” Kettenring said.
This is Dalton’s third appearance in a state title match. The Cats shared the 2003 Class 4A championship with Heritage-Rockdale and lost the 2004 Class 4A championship to Woodward Academy. Southeast was the Class 3A runner-up to Lakeside-DeKalb in 2008.
The Raiders will be without senior midfielder Jorge Hurtado, a team captain. Hurtado received a red card in the last two minutes of Southeast’s semifinals win versus Northwest.
“Since we started the playoffs, I remember what coach (Jamison) Griffin told us last season,” senior striker Erik Salaises said. “He said movies are made out of teams like this. I would tell our starters this is a perfect setting for us. It’s been injuries, and now Jorge not being able to play, it’s perfect. We’re the underdogs.”