Sports

September 6, 2013

No easy path to victory

Cats hit road for Calhoun, and Southeast, Coahulla look for 2-0 starts

The last time Dalton High School’s football team started a season with two losses was 1975.

But Catamounts coach Matt Land finds such trivia trivial — especially this early in the season.

“It’s the first time I’ve heard that, so it’s not in our mind,” said Land, a Dalton graduate who was a longtime assistant before taking over as head coach in 2010.

Still, starting with an 0-2 record is a real possibility for Dalton, which heads south to state-level power Calhoun tonight for a cross-classification matchup with the Yellow Jackets at Phil Reeve Stadium. The Cats were off last week after opening the season with a 33-27 triple-overtime loss to Ringgold on Aug. 23.

In tonight’s other games involving area programs, Christian Heri-tage is at Murray County, Coahulla Creek is at Gordon Lee, North Murray hosts Dade County and Southeast Whitfield welcomes Gordon Central.

All kickoffs are at 7:30 p.m.

Calhoun has reached the Class 2A state title game each of the past five seasons — the Yellow Jackets’ lone win during that stretch was in 2011 — and is a unanimous No. 1 in the Georgia Sports Writers Association’s Class 2A poll this week.

On top of that, the Yellow Jackets (1-0) have won four consecutive meetings with Dalton, a Class 4A program.

But just as Land’s not paying much attention to history concerning this year’s Dalton team, neither is Calhoun coach Hal Lamb when it comes to his Yellow Jackets, who kicked off their 2013 schedule last week with a 37-0 thrashing of Ridgeland — which advanced to last year’s Class 4A state championship game.

“First of all, it really doesn’t matter what the records are when these two teams play,” said Lamb, who is in his 15th season at the program and has a record of 158-29 in that time. “It’s a rivalry that goes back a lot longer before I got here.”

That rivalry was long heavily tilted in Dalton’s favor, though. According to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association website (ghsfha.org), Dalton leads the all-time series 34-7-1, with Calhoun making up ground by winning five of seven meetings since the rivalry resumed in 2006 after a 17-year layoff.

All of that means little to Dalton and Land, who is ultimately looking toward league play and the goal of a region title. Dalton’s Sub-region 7B-4A schedule begins Oct. 4 at home versus Ridgeland.

“We want to win every game we play, but the reality is our true season — the one that establishes our goal — technically doesn’t start until we play Ridgeland,” Land said.

That doesn’t mean Dalton is happy with losing two weeks ago to Ringgold, the first time that had happened in 30 years.

“The whole team is hungry, especially after a loss to Ringgold,” senior free safety Nathan Bryant said.

Last season, Calhoun won a 55-41 shootout in which Dalton fumbled the opening kickoff to set up an early Yellow Jackets field goal and lead. That loss gave last year’s senior class the dubious distinction of being the first in program history to lose four times to Calhoun. This year’s senior group faces the same potential outcome.

“We don’t want to be another (class) to lose each time to them,” senior cornerback Chris Childs said. “We hurt ourselves with mistakes on special teams.”

Special teams were costly against Ringgold, too. Two blocked extra-point attempts and a blocked punt are part of the reason for that bad taste. Land said the team works on special teams 15-25 minutes each practice. He also said that the time wasn’t increased during the past two weeks’ practices.

Kelvis Rhodes, Dalton’s junior running back who gained more than 1,500 yards as a sophomore, didn’t dress out against Ringgold because of a lingering injury from the offseason. Land classified him as a “game-time decision” for the second straight game and did not make him available for comment. Wide receiver Tyler Britton, a junior, has a broken growth plate and also is questionable.

In Rhodes’ absence, sophomore Tyler Noland started at tailback and rushed for 123 yards on 17 carries

“I don’t know the status on the kid but we’re going to plan for him to be there,” Lamb said of Rhodes, who scored six touchdowns in last year’s game. “Their offense is not going to change.”

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