By Chris Whitfield
Dominant from the start, Region 7-4A teams better believe that this isn’t the “same old Cass” squad.
The Cass Colonels scored on their opening possession, led by three touchdowns at the half and were up 35-0 before Dalton even put points on the board in rolling to a 35-7 win at Harmon Field on Friday night. Junior quarterback Brandon Etheridge ran for three touchdowns and passed for another in racking up 329 yards of total offense.
It was the worse loss for a Dalton team in terms of margin of defeat since the Catamounts lost 51-13 in the 2001 Class 4A state championship game.
“We have to go back to the fundamentals,” Dalton coach Matt Land said. “What we have to do is go back and evaluate position by position. I know our boys wanted to play better than that tonight, and our coaches wanted to coach better than that tonight. I know that we will get back to work and get ready for a very good Ridgeland team.”
The loss dropped the Catamounts to 2-2 on the year heading into the Sub-region 7A-4A schedule next Friday night at Ridgeland (2-2).
For Cass, it was the second-straight victory on the road in Whitfield County, and coach Rick Casko said his team — which went 0-10 last season and has never beaten Dalton in eight previous times — had something to prove.
“Go look in our locker room, and read what some fan on the Internet vent wrote about how this is just the same old Cass team that couldn’t play with the real teams,” Casko said. “Our kids have been reading that all week. Our kids are for real, and they are going to continue to get better each week and believe. This is a great bunch of kids, and I can’t wait to see where this season will go.”
Cass and Etheridge’s offense wasted little time in silencing the Senior Night crowd in Dalton. A 42-yard kickoff return by Kelin Wells on the opening kick gave the Colonels good field position to start, and Keelyn Wilkey capped off a 5-play drive with a 28-yard touchdown run.
The tone was set even more on the defensive side of the ball as the Cass defense held Dalton to a three-and-out. An Etheridge 54-yard quarterback keeper from the spread gave Cass 14-0 lead with 11:48 left in the second quarter.
Dalton had its best chance to make a game of it taken away on a Colonels’ defensive play midway through the quarter. The Catamounts put together their best drive of the night as sophomore running back Kelvis Rhodes found his footing.
Taking over at their own 8, Rhodes busted off runs of 32 and 36 yards on the drive, and Dalton marched to the Cass 13. But Colonel defensive back Seth Hughes picked off Dalton quarterback Cole Calfee in the end zone.
“We really played physical from the start,” Casko said. “They (Dalton) don’t do a lot on the offensive side of the ball, but that sophomore running back is a great runner. We did a real good job of bottling him up in the second half.”
Rhodes had 107 yards on 14 carries in the first half and finished with 121 yards on 18 carries.
Two plays later, Etheridge took off on another run from the spread, going 70 yards for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead with 5:26 left in the first half, and Etheridge again took over, scrambling for a 21-yard gain before hitting a 15-yard swing pass to Kelin Wells in the flat and hitting Wilkey on a 14-yard scoring strike for a 28-0 lead with 8:57 in the third.
The Cats were looking for another come-from-behind victory after winning in overtime last week at Gilmer, and had their chance when punter Edar Mora pinned the Colonels down at the 1. But Cass responded with a 99-yard drive that stretched over the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth.
Going 99 yards in 11 plays, the Colonels converted three third downs with Etheridge fittingly capping it off with a 13-yard run on third down for a 35-0 lead.
Dalton finally got on the board as Cole Calfee connected with receiver Taylor Dale on a 62-yard touchdown pass with 9:03 left in the game.
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Cass 35, Dalton 7
Score by quarters
Cass 7 14 7 7 — 35
Dalton 0 0 0 7 — 7
How They Scored
C — Keelyn Wilkey 28 run (Pablo Delores kick), 9:42
C — Brandon Etheridge 54 run (Delores kick), 11:48
C — Etheridge 70 run (Delores kick), 5:26
C — Wilkey 14 pass from Etheridge (Delores kick), 8:57
C — Etheridge 13 run (Delores kick), 10:52
D — Taylor Dale 62 pass from Cole Calfee (Daniel Palacios kick), 9:03