Sports

October 11, 2013

Past meets present

When Bruins face Cats, history can’t be ignored

Five high school football teams have felt quite ill after playing Northwest Whitfield this season.

History says Dalton has the right medicine.

Northwest’s Bruins and Dalton’s Catamounts will tangle for the 33rd time in the intracounty rivalry when they meet tonight at 7:30 at Bruin Stadium in Tunnel Hill. Northwest is 5-0 this season, but Dalton has won three straight games since an 0-2 start, leads the all-time series with the Bruins 27-5 and has won the past six meetings.

There’s more history that could build the Cats’ confidence as well. In 2006 and 2007, the Bruins started the season with six straight wins. In both years, the Cats were the brick wall that halted Northwest’s perfect run.

Beyond bragging rights, the game is also key to each team’s quest for the Region 7-4A title. Dalton and Northwest are 1-0 in Sub-region 7B-4A play and enter tonight’s game sharing the top spot in the sub-region standings with Southeast Whitfield.

In other games tonight involving area teams, Christian Heritage hosts Darlington in an important Sub-region 6A-A clash, Murray County visits Model in a Region 7-2A game and Southeast travels to Ridgeland for another 7B-4A matchup. A 7 p.m. kickoff is scheduled at Model, where it’s homecoming, but all other games will kick off at 7:30.

As the Bruins try to snap their losing streak to Dalton, they enter averaging 43.6 points per game and allowing an average of 17.8 points per contest this season. Those numbers, strengthened by last week’s 49-7 rout of sub-region foe Heritage-Catoosa, have impressed Dalton coach Matt Land.

“Clearly, Northwest is the front-runner for this,” Land said. “... This may be the best team Northwest has ever had. From what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen on film, they have skill, speed, size, experience and a great quarterback.”

Despite the historic edge for the Cats — who won last year’s game when they entered 2-3 and Northwest was 4-1 — Land is certain the Bruins should be favored.

“Absolutely,” Land said. “You’re playing in their home stadium. They are 5-0. They are scoring a lot of points.”

Northwest coach Josh Robinson, you have the floor to counter.

“I have probably two answers to that,” he said. “No. 1, when Northwest and Dalton play, even when one team is a lot better than the other one, the score is going to be close. Is there a true favorite? I don’t really buy into that. The flip side is that each year is a new year and we have to treat it that way. There will be a lot of talk about our record (this year) and their record in the past against us, but honestly neither of those things matter coming into this game.”

Dalton started the season with a 33-27 triple-overtime loss to Ringgold and a 17-2 loss to Calhoun. The Cats were without junior running back Kelvis Rhodes in both games as he recovered from a shoulder injury. He returned for a four-touchdown, 173-yard rushing performance in a 31-0 victory against Gilmer on Sept. 20. That started Dalton’s current winning streak, and Rhodes has scored eight touchdowns — one was a catch — while rushing for 341 yards on 47 carries, a 7.3-yards-per-carry average, during that span.

Stopping Rhodes and getting the ball back to the offense will be important for Northwest’s defense.

“Our defense gets a lot of turnovers and gets three-and-outs,” Bruins junior quarterback Caleb Shiflett said. “That helps us get back in the game. I think if we can stop Kelvis Rhodes, then we’ll have a pretty good chance.”

As for Northwest’s offense, senior running back Jacob Webb has been heavily leaned on to give balance to the Bruins’ spread attack. He has rushed 61 times for 479 yards (7.8 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns. Shiflett has thrown for 974 yards — nearly 200 yards per game — and 12 touchdowns, with five each in the past two games.

The Bruins’ fast-paced, no-huddle offense has enjoyed success this year in its second season under coordinator David Crane. Do the Cats have a way to counter?

Land calls it the Cats’ “no-huddle defense,” something Dalton coaches use to offset no-huddle offenses.

“I think our coaches have done a great job adjusting us to these no-huddle offenses,” he said. “Northwest isn’t the first we’ve faced that uses that type of offense and won’t be the last.”

Either way, this game will have an impact on the sub-region race. The winner is, at worst, tied for first place.

Four weeks from tonight, the sub-region champion will face the Sub-region 7A-4A champion for the Region 7-4A title.

“Nobody knows what will happen, but (the winner) could go on to the championship,” Dalton senior linebacker Devonte Davis said. “I think (tonight) will be the game of the year.”

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