TUNNEL HILL —
In a do-or-die situation, Dalton High’s football team put together its most complete game of the year.
Sparked by a running game which couldn’t be stopped, a defense that was opportunistic and a little lucky in the first half — and completely dominating in the second — the Catamounts rolled.
Behind more than 400 yards of total offense and 186 yards on the ground from sophomore tailback Kelvis Rhodes, Dalton marched into the Class 4A state playoffs with a 42-0 domination of Pickens in a Region 7-4A play-in game Friday night at Harmon Field. It was a performance that was head-shaking after Dalton had struggled in back-to-back victories over Heritage-Catoosa and Southeast Whitfield — two teams that combined for two wins this season.
“It’s been here (all season), but tonight the old ball bounced our way,” Dalton coach Matt Land said after his team improved to 7-3. “We got some breaks and that is what you want, but a lot of our breaks were made by players making plays.”
Dalton, the No. 2 seed from Sub-region 7B, advances to state as the No. 3 seed from the region. Ridgeland defeated River Ridge 48-14 for the region championship, and both teams host playoff games next Friday in the first round. Dalton travels to Atlanta to face Region 6-4A runner-up Carver, which lost 42-14 in the Region 6 title game to second-ranked Marist. It was ninth-ranked Carver’s first loss of the season.
Pickens (5-5) entered the game as the No. 3 seed from Sub-region 7A, but the Dragons were done in by an interception, a failed fourth-down conversion and a dropped touchdown pass.
Early in the game, neither defense was dialed in, but an interception by Dalton’s Eder Mora ended the Dragons’ first drive as Pickens flew down the field following a Dalton fumble. The Cats wasted little time in driving 72 yards in six plays with Rhodes’ 46-yard run on a toss sweep doing most of the damage.
Two plays later, quarterback Cole Calfee scored on the first of his two touchdown runs in the first half for a 7-0 lead with 5:42 left in the first quarter.
Pickens took over on offense at its own 20-yard line, and picked apart the Dalton defense. The Dragons had a first-and-goal from the Dalton 8 before the Cats stiffened. Mora had a tackle for a loss before Tanner Brumby rolled out on fourth-and-goal from the 5 and was swarmed by Dalton to end the threat.
“When we did it, the crowd and the players all got crazy,” senior defensive end Laighton Reese said. “We loved it and we’ve got to keep playing like that.”
The Dalton offense responded with a 93-yard, 12-play drive that was a mix of Rhodes on the toss off tackle, Mora in at fullback on the trap and a surprise strike from Calfee to Brandon Dale for 36 yards. Calfee capped off the drive with a 1-yard plunge on a counter option play on fourth down from the 1.
Still, even down 14-0, Pickens had a chance to get back in the game, driving from its 20 and steadily marching down the field. However, a pair of offsides calls pushed the Dragons back and Brumby’s fourth-down pass to Brandon Brooks, who was wide open at the Dalton 5-yard line, was dropped.
Just six plays later, Dalton had a 21-0 lead as Rhodes wrapped it up with an 18-yard scoring run. On the drive, Rhodes and senior fullback Robert Hardaway accounted for all 68 yards.