ATLANTA — Carver was jumping on the option run, so on third-and-13, Dalton called a reverse.
It was one of the biggest play calls of a season that will continue for at least one more week.
Brandon Dale’s 69-yard run set up Daniel Palacios for a 30-yard field goal, which became the game-winnng score as Dalton won 17-14 at Lakewood Stadium in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs. It is the Catamounts’ first playoff win since 2005, when they advanced to the quarterfinals, and their first postseason win on the road since 1992 — a 20-0 first-round victory at Clarkston.
In the third quarter, with the score tied at 14 and Dalton (8-3) backed up on its own 18-yard line, quarterback Cole Calfee ran to his left on an option play but was tackled for a 3-yard loss. After an incomplete pass, the Cats decided to catch Carver (9-2) off guard.
“They were overpursuing all night long,” said Dalton coach Matt Land, whose team entered the playoffs as the Region 7 No. 3 seed and now has won six straight games after starting 2-3. “(Offensive coordinator Bill Napier) had been patient in waiting. They moved a man outside and we did a great job with the fake. Individual players made great plays, and the team made a great play.”
Calfee pitched to Dale, who saw a lot of open turf and cut back across the field around the 50-yard line. He did not stop until stepping out of bounds at the Carver 16.
“We ran the reverse and they bit on it,” Dale said. “Then we had a great block on the outside by B.J. Rowland.”
Three plays later, Palacios gave Dalton the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter with 11:55 to play
“He practices that kick every day,” Land said, “and I looked in his eyes and he said, ‘Coach, I’ll make it.’”
Dalton advances to play No. 1-ranked Sandy Creek (11-0), the Region 5 champion, which beat Eastside 55-0 in its opening-round matchup. In their past three games, the Fighting Patriots have won by a combined score of 150-7.
Carver, which lost the Region 6 title game to Marist last week and entered as a No. 2 seed, had chances to tie or take the lead.
After the teams traded possession in the final quarter, Carver got the ball with 5:37 to play and moved to the Dalton 24. Facing third-and-one, a delay of game penalty pushed the Panthers back 5 yards and an incomplete pass brought up the biggest defensive play of the night for the Cats.
Senior defensive end Robert Hardaway sacked Jordan Holden on fourth down, and it was sweet redemption for Hardaway, who while lined up at fullback had fumbled inside the Carver 10-yard line on Dalton’s opening possession of the game. After Hardaway’s sack, the Cats took possession with less than two minutes left. Carver had no timeouts, and could only watch as Dalton ran out the clock.
The Panthers had 13 penalties in the game.
“The penalties were the most disappointing aspect of it all,” Carver coach Darren Myles said. “And not being able to cash in when we had to.”
Carver senior running back Montavious Taylor scored on his team’s second offensive play, going 89 yards for a score with 7:06 left in the first quarter.
After a Calfee interception and Carver turnover on downs, Dalton engineered a five-play, 60-yard drive ending on a Calfee touchdown run from 4 yards away with 2:33 left in the first quarter.
Carver did not regain momentum until Dalton fumbled on fourth-and-1 from its own 38. Nine plays later, Carver’s Tevish Clark found Steve McDonald on fourth-and-2 from the 7. The two-point conversion was successful and Carver held a 14-7 lead at halftime.
Dalton tied the game on its first drive of the second half when Calfee found Dale on a 13-yard touchdown pass with 6:40 left in the third quarter after Carver had fumbled on its opening drive at the Panthers’ 36.
Sophomore tailback Kelvis Rhodes, Dalton’s leading rusher this year, had 73 all-purpose yards, Dale accounted for 82 and Calfee had 89.
Carver, which went 2-8 in 2011 but was 9-0 before losing to Marist this year, came into the game with a powerhouse rushing attack, evident by nearly 3,000 yards on the ground. Taylor had 215 yards on 23 carries but only 65 in the second half.
The only other time these two programs played was in 1967, when Dalton won 14-12 at Atlanta’s Grady Stadium and captured the Class 2A state championship.