November 14, 2012

Carver Panthers keyed by runners

Dalton's playoff foe averages almost 300 yards per game on ground

Devin Golden
devingolden@daltoncitizen.com

— When a team rushes for an average of 300 yards per game, the ratio of passing touchdowns-to-interceptions means little.

When a team loses eight games in one season, a single loss the following year is nothing.

Dalton High’s opponent in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs can tell you all about that.

Behind 2,996 team rushing yards — with close to half coming from senior running back Montavious Taylor — Atlanta’s Carver has accumulated a 9-1 record one season after a dismal 2-8 showing and was ranked ninth in The Associated Press’ Class 4A poll as recent as a week ago. The Panthers finished undefeated in Sub-region 6B-4A and secured a spot in the Region 6 championship but lost to Marist and were relegated to a No. 2 seed for the playoffs.

They’ll welcome Dalton (7-3) to Lakewood Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Friday in a rematch of a state championship game from almost half a century ago.

Carver (9-1) has 31 rushing touchowns this season, and a single-game high of seven in a 485-yard performance during a 65-14 win against South Atlanta on Oct. 20 shows just how capable the Panthers are of moving the football on the ground. Taylor is the ground force’s workhorse with 1,435 yards and 13 touchdowns, but Carver coach Darren Myles pointed to the work done by the guys up front.

“We have a couple of linemen being recruited by a couple of colleges,” said Myles, who is in his eighth season leading the program. He mentioned Roc-M Nesbitt, Xavier Davis and Delando Crooks as linemen who potentially could be playing on Saturdays in coming years.

Senior Derrick Johnson, who missed two weeks and was limited a couple of weeks because of an ankle injury, is second on the team with 766 rushing yards and six scores.

Dalton coach Matt Land knows what his defense is facing as it returns to the state playoffs for the second year in a row.

“I’d say (Taylor) definitely is issue No. 1, because he’s their yardage leader and rush leader,” Land said. “They’ve got three other guys that run the ball and do not have near the number of carries, but they are just as effective.”

Carver’s passing game has been mediocre. Junior Jordan Holden has thrown for 1,290 yards in 10 games with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions. But that can be good enough if the running attack piles up yards in the fashion of a high-octane spread passing game.

“We’ve been extremely successful at running the football,” Myles said. “We have a great offensive line ... In playoff football, if you can’t do anything else, then you better be able to run the football.”

Carver does not have the same success historically as Dalton does. According to the Georgia High School Football Historians Associa-tion website (ghsfha.org), the Panthers have six winless seasons since 1988 and seven since 1961, including a 30-game losing streak from the start of the 1988 season to the end of the 1990 schedule.

By comparison, Dalton has had only one losing season dating back to the same times, and it was last season when the Cats forfeited four games due to using an ineligible player. Regardless of that, Land still sees the Panthers as the favorites.

“Oh, no doubt,” he said. “... We’re sitting here at a No. 3 seed.”

The first nine games of Carver’s 2012 season included a mixture of blowouts and tight victories. The team is averaging 31.5 points per game and allowing 18.8. Wins against sub-region rivals and fellow playoff teams Washington and Grady, both 22-19 scores, highlight four Carver victories by three points or less. In the other five wins, there was a combined 147-point differential.

But the zero in the loss column changed when Marist’s War Eagles, the No. 2-ranked team in Class 4A, put on a 42-14 rout of the Panthers last week with the Region 6-4A title at stake.

For the first time this season, Carver must rebound from a loss. And they face a Dalton team which has strung together five consecutive wins after a 2-3 start.

No big deal, Myles said. This team went through a 2-8 season last year and finished a combined 16-13 from 2008 to 2010.

“It’ll be the first time (coming off a loss) this year, but we’ve had our share of losses in the past,” Myles said. “I think this group will bounce back. I know it won’t be a factor in terms of a slump like, ‘Oh no, we lost a game.’ I also know it won’t be like gangbusters and coming out like a bat out of hell.”

In 2007, Myles’ third year in the program, the Panthers reached the quarterfinals before being blown out 48-6 by Cairo. That was the last time Carver reached the postseason.

“This will be first-time playoff experience for these kids,” Myles said. “I think the thing that helps us is that despite not being in a playoff game, a lot grew up watching Carver football. In fact, several people chose Carver because of the 2007 season when we went 11-1.

“Couple that with the fact that we’re playing at home, so it brings a little more sense of normalcy for us.”

Something not too normal is the history between the Panthers and Catamounts, and both coaches spouted off the history lesson with ease. In the 1967 Class 2A championship game, Dalton defeated Carver 14-12 at Atlanta’s Grady Stadium.

“I imagine some players (from 1967) will definitely be in that crowd,” Myles said. “It’s sort of like a déja vü.

“Right now, I haven’t even made the team aware of that, but I will give them a little bit of history.”