Sports

October 4, 2013

The ones that matter most

League play starts for Region 7-4A football

Let’s be real.

The Georgia High School Association’s football state playoffs may be six weeks away, but the start of league play for Region 7-4A’s two sub-regions will bring a do-or-die atmosphere to those games tonight.

That’s certainly true for those who would aspire to be region champions. The importance of starting 1-0 rather than 0-1 is paramount with only five weeks to determine sub-region seeding. In the final week of the regular season, the two sub-region winners will face off for the championship — both are guaranteed a host’s spot in the opening round of the Class 4A state playoffs — while the No. 2 seed from each sub-region will cross over to play the No. 3 seed from the other, with a state berth going to the winners.

In Sub-region 7B-4A matchups involving local teams tonight, Dalton hosts Ridgeland, Northwest Whitfield is at Heritage-Catoosa and Southeast Whitfield heads to LaFayette. In other games involving teams from Murray and Whitfield counties, Christian Heritage heads to Gordon Lee, Coahulla Creek hosts Gordon Central and North Murray travels to Adairsville. All kickoffs are at 7:30 p.m.

The Ridgeland Panthers (1-3) won last season’s sub-region and region titles and they did it while going undefeated in league play. Just one loss could be enough to prevent a team from attaining its goals.

“You can’t make a mistake if you think you’ll play for a region championship,” Ridgeland coach Mark Mariakis said.

Dalton started the season with two losses in which the Catamounts scored just 29 points total against Ringgold and Cass, but they have scored at least 30 while winning their past two games. The notable difference in the past two weeks’ victories against Gilmer and Cass, Sub-region 7A-4A teams, was the return of junior tailback Kelvis Rhodes. He rushed for 16 touchdowns and more than 1,500 yards in 2012 but missed the first two games of this season with a shoulder injury.

In just eight quarters this season, Rhodes has 295 yards on 37 carries, including seven touchdowns. He also has a 79-yard touchdown catch.

“Those first two games weren’t as important as the ones against region and sub-region teams,” Dalton fullback Jacob Bartoo said.

From here on, each game should be treated like a postseason game, Dalton coach Matt Land said.

“It’s a corny coach saying that the next game is the most important game, but in a way it’s true,” Land said. “This is our first sub-region game, and we only have five of those. Technically, at the end of the day, one misstep to the wrong team could cost you a spot in the playoffs because of tiebreakers.

“We’ll tell our kids, for all practical purposes, we’re in the playoffs. We’re in it right now. That’s the way we look at it, because if we lose this one then some of the games down the road might not matter.”

The Panthers’ success in 2013 went beyond sub-region and region accolades as they reached the Class 4A state title game during the best season in program history. But this season hasn’t gone nearly as well so far.

The Panthers opened with a 37-0 loss to Calhoun — the only common opponent thus far for Ridgeland and Dalton, which lost 17-2 to the Yellow Jackets — and have dropped each of the past two games, falling 36-14 to Cedartown and 41-28 to Pickens. Ridgeland’s only win was 42-14 over River Ridge.

“I’d rather be 4-0,” Mariakis said with a laugh. “Our kids are battling hard. We’ll probably have four freshmen starting. Dalton isn’t going to care, though. Nobody will care. I don’t think record has any indication of the quality of this ballgame.”

Mariakis is right — Dalton doesn’t care. In fact, Land called Ridgeland “one of the best teams” the Cats will play all season.

“I think sometimes when you’re on a winning streak, you might think you’re better than you are,” he said. “When you’re on a losing streak, you may think you’re worse than you are. We don’t play into that. We treat each week autonomous of past weeks. As far as we’re concerned, we’re playing the region champions and the state runners-up.”

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