TUNNEL HILL —
A night that was beginning to look like a rout turned into a heavyweight match in which both teams were trading haymakers back and forth.
Then it turned into heartbreak for one, and jubilation for another.
Kiko Rodriguez’s 25-yard field goal as time expired gave Dalton a 31-28 victory and ruined Northwest Whitfield’s dreams of an undefeated season. And while the sting of losing at home to the rival Catamounts will linger, there is still plenty of football remaining for the Bruins.
“This doesn’t end our season,” Northwest coach Josh Robinson said.
It was a night of pendulum swings for the Bruins (5-1, 1-1 in Sub-region 7A-4A). Northwest bolted out to a 14-0 lead and had a chance to go up two touchdowns again later in the game, but Dalton cornerback Jordan McKinney had a perfect-coverage interception in the end zone. The Catamounts (4-2, 2-0) responded with the tying score, and it was each offense hammering the opposing defense for the rest of the game.
“We gave up the big plays,” Northwest safety and wide receiver Andy Whisenant said. “That was what beat us. We beat ourselves. I am not taking anything away from Dalton because that was a hard-fought game from both sides. We just didn’t make the play when we needed to.”
Giving up that 14-0 lead was the difference, Robinson said.
Quarterback Payton Veraldi had a 55-yard run that set up Dalton’s first score, and a 46-yard completion from Veraldi to Peter Sigmon set up the second.
“Two long plays in the first half,” Robinson said. “You can’t do it. You can’t give those up.”
Neither Dalton nor Northwest was able to effectively slow the other offense down. They just made them change the tactics to move the ball.
Dalton’s defense was designed to contain the Northwest passing game with a pair of deep safeties, man coverage on the perimeter and rushing just three linemen most of the night. It showed as well with the Bruins using their running game more than they had all year. They rushed for 40 times for 184 yards.
Northwest’s defensive front was geared to take running back Kelvis Rhodes’ off-tackle carries away. In doing so, the middle was open and Veraldi’s quarterback sneak became a crucial part of Dalton’s game plan.
But despite the loss, Northwest still has three games remaining in the sub-region with the region crossover games and a possible spot in the state playoffs still to work for.
“We just have to keep going,” Whisenant said. “We need to get back to work on Monday.”