September 23, 2013

Friday Night Rewind: Cats stay grounded to grab first win

The Daily Citizen

— Dalton High School’s football team ran into the win column with its 31-0 victory against Gilmer on Friday night at Harmon Field.

While sophomore tailback Kelvis Rhodes’ return to the field was one of the major storylines — Rhodes missed the first two games of the season, losses to Ringgold and Calhoun, with a shoulder injury — he wasn’t the only contributor on offense, although he was certainly a major one.

In other games involving area teams this past Friday, Christian Heritage beat Fellowship Christian 41-0, Coahulla Creek lost 41-16 to Sonoraville, Murray County fell 31-0 to Armuchee, North Murray was beaten 55-15 by Cartersville and Northwest Whitfield topped Cass 52-35.

As for Dalton, the Catamounts’ rushing attack tallied 317 yards on 42 rushes. Rhodes went for 173 yards and four touchdowns in a strong 2013 debut, but six other Cats rushed for at least 14 yards.

Rotating quarterbacks Jase Chastain (nine carries, 39 yards) and Payton Veraldi (four carries, 41 yards) helped moved the ball down the field. Sophomore running back Tyler Noland, who filled in for Rhodes in the two games he missed, chipped in 14 yards on five carries, while wide receiver Peter Sigmon added a 24-yard run on a reverse.

The Cats only completed four passes. Chastain was 2-for-10 for 24 yards and an interception, while Veraldi was 2-for-4 for 19 yards. The two signal callers had been rotating series for most of the season, but the offensive coaches decided to switch up the substitutions, Dalton head coach Matt Land said after Friday’s game.

“We had been switching out by series, but we made a decision coming into the game that we were going to mix it up a bit and kind of let some things roll as the game goes on instead of being more strategical as far as trying to get them in and out, just kind of let the game play itself,” he said.

Freshman Zek Cobb was Dalton’s leading receiver with two catches for 19 yards.

• You might think Christian Heritage coach Preston Poag would have nothing but praise for his offense after such a lopsided victory against Fellowship Christian.

He didn’t.

While the passing game gave a peak performance as quarterback Trevor Brown had 310 yards and five touchdowns on 15 of 24 passing, Poag wasn’t pleased with his team’s rushing attack.

The only success Christian Heritage (3-1) had on the ground came on the Lions’ last possession as they went 88 yards, with Austin Lowe capping the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. Lowe finished with 95 rushing yards rushing, but 72 came on one carry.

Minus that last drive, the Lions had 45 yards of rushing offense.

“(Fellowship) put all of their players in the box, but you sort of pick your poison with Trevor throwing to Nich Bartley and Will Fischer,” Poag said. “Still, when we started hitting our passes, we should have been able to run the ball a little more effectively.”

• A 1-3 start — including an 0-1 Region 5-3A record — wasn’t exactly what Coahulla Creek coach Jared Hamlin was hoping for this season, especially with the Colts boasting the leadership of their largest senior class in the program’s brief history.

Making matters worse, the schedule doesn’t get easier for Coahulla Creek, with league matchups on the road against Cartersville and Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe looming.

Despite their inability to get needed defensive stops against previously winless Sonoraville, the Colts had some good moments offensively, including two passes for 40 or more yards, one to Levi Wilson (40) and one to Michael Ward (57). Senior quarterback Blaine Williams completed 11 of 25 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Cameron Burton also carried the ball well for the Colts against a stout Sonoraville front seven, gaining 84 yards on 13 carries.

In the first half, the Colts had a good offensive opportunity thanks to special teams play when they recovered an onside kick. Instead of a touchdown, though, Coahulla Creek settled for Irwin Rivera’s 34-yard field goal because of a quarterback sack that cost them valuable field position.

Hamlin knows his team needs to capitalize on its best chances when they arise.

“We drove the ball pretty good there in the first half,” Hamlin said. “We moved the ball around, we got some in the running game ... we got some in the passing game. But we turned the ball over down there inside the 5, and that’s huge right there.”

• If Murray County (1-3) is going to make strides toward being competitive on a regular basis, it must come out with intensity every week.

That was not the case this past week against previously winless Armuchee — it was the Region 7-2A opener for both teams — as Murray County coach Chad Brewer conceded that the visitors displayed a decisive advantage in that category.

The loss came a week after Murray County beat Gordon Central on the road to end a losing streak that stretched back to 2011 and one season further when forfeits were thrown out. But Murray County couldn’t make much of that momentum or being back at home, where its has been outscored 92-0 in two losses this year.

Murray County quarterback Justin Smith, who led all rushers in Murray and Whitfield counties going into Friday’s action with 237 yards on 48 carries, was held to 27 yards on 13 carries. He added 52 passing yards while completing 9 of 17 attempts. However, senior running back Jordan Walls was impressive with 78 yards on four carries. He had a 47-yard jaunt in the third quarter that almost went the distance.

Although shut out, Murray County had two good opportunities to score. It reached Armuchee’s 2-yard line in the second quarter before being pushed back to the 7 and advanced to the opposing 3 in the fourth quarter before three straight incompletions stalled the drive.

Interceptions on each of Murray County’s first two possessions in the third quarter made for a bad start to the second half, which began with the home team trailing 21-0.

• While North Murray is only 1-3, North Murray coach David Gann is thrilled with the progress of junior quarterback Hinton McConkey and sophomore running back Drake McCowan.

“It’s night-and-day different,” Gann said. “(McConkey) has relaxed a little bit and the butterflies are gone. He understands in (junior varsity) games you can make throws that you can’t on Friday nights. Drake really ran the ball hard against Cartersville. I think he had almost 100 yards rushing.”

Gann also estimated McConkey eclipsed 100 yards passing against the starting defense for Cartersville, which is ranked No. 3 in the Georgia Sports Writers Association Class 3A poll.

Neither McConkey nor McCowan had started a varsity game at these positions last season, although McConkey had seen Friday night action as a wide receiver.

Gann hopes the progress continues into the fifth game as the Mountaineers look for a Region 5-3A win Friday versus Sonoraville. In an eight-team region, it’s easy to get behind the pack quickly in the race for the postseason and Gann doesn’t want to see that happen to his team.

“This is kind of a playoff week for us,” Gann said. “On paper, Sonoraville is a little more experienced than we are and we’ll have to play well to beat them.”

• Northwest’s defense continued its streak of at least four takeaways per game this year and matched a season best with six Friday night against Cass as the Bruins improved to 3-0.

But Northwest’s offense turned the ball over more against the Colonels than it had in the two games prior.

Northwest forced six turnovers, bringing its season total for takeaway to 16 for an average of more than five per game.

But the Bruins only had four giveaways through their first two games, and they had five Friday. Four were interceptions, while two were fumbles.

“There may be a night where the defense is struggling,” Northwest coach Josh Robinson said after the game. “The offense has to pick it up. We can’t play at other people’s speed on offense. We have to play at our speed.”

The team committed four turnovers in the first half — three in the second quarter — and let a 31-0 lead early in the second quarter dwindle to a 38-21 edge at halftime.

Compiled by Devin Golden, Dave Gordon, Doug Hawley, Jamie Jones and Chris Whitfield.