When Dalton High School junior Kelvis Rhodes missed the first two games of the season with a shoulder injury, the Catamounts turned to sophomore Tyler Noland to fill the hole at running back. Now that Rhodes has returned, Noland has settled into another role.
And while being a kick returner may not be as glamorous as being the starting tailback, Noland is still getting plenty of yards.
Noland had 125 yards of return yardage to give Dalton’s offense a short field all night long Friday and also scored on a 35-yard run to help the Catamounts stay alone atop the Sub-region 7B-4A standings with a 64-0 win over LaFayette on homecoming at Harmon Field.
“I was really enjoying it out there tonight,” Noland said.
“We work hard every practice on our punt returns and learning to build those walls and find those lanes. It pays off on Friday night. I am proud to have brothers like that on special teams.”
Thanks to both the punt and kickoff return teams, Dalton (5-2, 3-0) didn’t start a drive on its side of the 50 all night long. On six punt returns and one kickoff return, Dalton had 187 yards of return yardage. The Cats — who dropped LaFayette to 0-7 overall and 0-3 in the sub-region — also had a blocked punt that turned into a score.
“Those guys on our special teams, we (ask) a little more from them,” Dalton coach Matt Land said. “In the return game, it starts with Tyler, who has some great gifts, and using the talents of the guys who are in front of him. Tyler is a very unselfish player, and he understands that what he gives us in the return game is as important as our running game or our passing game.”
Dalton got off to a fast start, with tailback Rhodes taking a handoff from quarterback Payton Veraldi off tackle for a 34-yard touchdown run on the Cats first play from scrimmage, and they led 7-0 with 10:35 to play in the first quarter.
The second score of the night took a little more work as freshman Zek Cobb took a reverse 14 yards to the end zone to cap a nine-play, 42-yard drive.
Special teams play helped later as Austin Mills blocked a punt to allow Elijah Stidmon a scoop-and-score return from the LaFayette 5. After Dalton junior linebacker/safety Eder Mora picked off a pass on the Ramblers’ next play, Dalton ran just one play before Peter Sigmon hauled in a 31-yard touchdown pass from Veraldi.
After another three-and-out by the Dalton defense and a short field with a 33-yard return by Noland, Rhodes struck again with a 21-yard scoring run to make it 34-0 with 11:15 left in the first half. Rhodes added a 12-yard scoring run midway through the second quarter for a 41-0 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, Noland’s touchdown pushed the margin out to 48-0, and Nathan Bryant — in at quarterback in relief of Veraldi — scored from 3 yards out on the last play of the period for a 55-0 lead.
Kiko Rodriguez hit a 38-yard field goal with 6:26 left to play, and fullback Tucker Sumner, who had two carries for 64 yards, capped the night off with a 33-yard scoring run.
A running clock was used in every quarter but the first. Dalton held LaFayette to 111 total offensive yards and finished with 287 yards rushing and 47 passing.