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August 30, 2013

Chris Whitfield: Mystique is a powerful part of prep game

I’ll be the first to admit I never really understood this whole Dalton High School “mystique” when it comes to football.

I’ve been covering prep football in Georgia for more than two decades and have a grasp of what the sport is like in most parts of the state. I know — and have covered — true dynasties over those years.

Buford has won state five of the past six years and eight times since 2001. Thomas County Central won five of six titles from 1992 to 1997. West Rome captured four straight from 1982 to 1985. Valdosta hasn’t won state since 1998, but the Wildcats are still at the top of the list for Georgia High School Association titles with 21 — that’s seven more than second-place Lincoln County, which has nine championships since 1985.

Camden County, Charlton County, Lowndes, Northside-Warner Robins, Parkview, Washington County — those are teams I think of as the best of the best in Georgia prep football.

Dalton? Well, the view from outside northwest Georgia is that Dalton is a good program with a winning tradition that will occasionally make a splash on the statewide stage.

That isn’t a slam against the Catamounts, but when looking at Dalton from outside of the region, the school’s football reputation takes a hit because of its surroundings. Besides Calhoun and Ridgeland as of late, the rest of northwest Georgia football just isn’t that good.

But after seeing the way the Ringgold Tigers and their fans celebrated so jubilantly last Friday night at Harmon Field following their 33-27 triple-overtime win against the Cats, I understand it a little bit more. The win by the Tigers wasn’t just a win over the 2013 edition of the Cats, it was a win over all the other Dalton teams that had beaten Ringgold 43 times in 44 meetings — often decisively — going into last week’s matchup. It was like those teams that beat Alabama during the time between Gene Stallings and Nick Saban, because in their minds they were not only beating the current Crimson Tide teams but gaining a win over the “mystique” of Bear Bryant.

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