May 17, 2014

Chris Whitfield: Dalton fans push team to a repeat


KENNESAW — Let the Dalton High School students keep on chanting. Let them chant all the way back north on Interstate 75 from Kennesaw State University.

“Back-to-back!”

“Un-de-feat-ed!”

 No matter how out of key or how off beat the cadence may be, let them cheer. You can’t stop them, and who would want to?

“State Champs!”

Again.

Celebrate with them. All of you who are reading this, celebrate. Immigrant and native, celebrate. Take pride in this and celebrate.

For the second year in a row, the Catamounts boys soccer team has brought back a Class 4A state title, beating Johnson-Gainesville 2-0 on Saturday. And while this community fills stadiums on Friday nights for football, this community is becoming recognized more and more around the state as the true bastion of futbol power.

Don’t be afraid of soccer, football fans. Embrace it. Celebrate with them.

They are certainly celebrating with you.

Even before Saturday’s match was decided and the Dalton fans were the ones chanting, they had already owned the day. With the red of the Dalton fans dominating the blue of the Johnson fans roughly 3-to-1 on the west side of Fifth Third Bank Stadium, the picture of the day was when the Dalton players jumped into the stands at the match’s conclusion to celebrate with their fans.

“The fans pumped us up, and we do it for them,” Dalton’s Chava Rodriguez said.

The fans brought the rowdy to the atmosphere, and the Cats on the field said they drew from it.

“I felt them when I scored,” said Justen Macias, who scored the first goal of the game. “I felt the passion and pride of scoring.”

Macias scored with 3:55 left in the first half, and Dalton’s fans aren’t used to having to wait that long to celebrate. For much of the first half, Johnson was able to handle the offensive punches the Cats were able to throw and maybe the Dalton fans felt that, too.

“We can’t hear you!” the Johnson fans taunted the Dalton fans on the other end of the stands as the first half looked as if it were drawing to a scoreless close. The Cats’ faithful let the Knights’ fans hear them shortly after that.

“We love these guys,” Dalton senior Lyle Durham said. “It doesn’t matter if it is football or soccer, you have to be out here cheering these guys on. They are the best in the state, and we love them.”

Durham and junior Eder Mora have been through the Friday night wars of football, and Mora said their fellow students make them the No. 1 team.

“They’re our classmates. They’ve always supported us from day one,” Mora said. “We appreciate that. They are No. 1 fans.”

Dalton’s winning of the state championship is the culmination of a two-year run of dominance unlike many others I can remember in a single area during my nearly 25 years of covering high school athletics. Of the seven local public schools in Whitfield and Murray counties, all earned bids into their respective state tournaments this year.

Last season, Dalton, Southeast Whitfield and Northwest Whitfield all advanced to the Class 4A state semifinals with the Raiders earning a chance to face Dalton for the title. Southeast returned to the semifinals again this year, but they were one goal away from another title game rematch and lost 1-0 to this Johnson side. Northwest fell 1-0 to Carrollton in the first round of the playoffs.

In the lower classes, both North Murray and Coahulla Creek made the Class 3A state playoffs, and Murray County and Morris Innovative both advanced to the Class 2A tournament. Unlike metro Atlanta, all of the best soccer talent isn’t in the private schools, and the players from all of the area’s schools should celebrate with the Catamounts. They all make Dalton better, and when the local teams face each other on the pitch, it is appointment viewing. I guarantee you that Dalton got much more out of the meetings with Northwest and Southeast this year than from the 10-0 quarterfinal victory over Perry.

So celebrate. All of us. Take pride in this group of soccer players — stretching across the entire area — and especially shine the light on those boys in red and white.



Chris Whitfield is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen. Contact him at chriswhitfield@daltoncitizen.com.