By Chris Whitfield
With next week’s Region 7-4A championship matchup looming, Dalton High School put together its most complete football game of the year.
The Catamounts scored on special teams, intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble on their way to a 42-0 win against visiting Southeast Whitfield in Sub-region 7B-4A play on Friday night at Harmon Field.
Dalton’s offense was a study in methodical drives — with no turnovers — and the defense recorded its fourth shutout of the year.
“That is about all you can ask for,” Dalton coach Matt Land said. “The problems were we had some penalties and we got a little sloppy on a couple of plays, but I am so thankful for these guys. We are where we are at because over the last four weeks we have had some great practices. The coaches have kept a great tempo.
“I don’t think tonight was a surprise to anybody on our team, but it was good to put it all together and reap the benefits of that tri-fold victory.”
The Catamounts (7-2, 5-0) will now gear up for a trip to Gilmer for the region title and a No. 1 seed in the state playoffs. Dalton beat the Bobcats 31-0 earlier this season at Harmon Field.
With the loss for the Raiders (4-5, 2-3) and Ridgeland’s 42-16 win over Heritage-Catoosa, Southeast finished as the No. 4 seed in the sub-region and will play at Cass — the No. 4 seed from the other side of the region — in a game with no playoff implications.
“We had two good drives in the first half and weren’t able to get any points off either one of them,” Southeast coach Sean Gray said. “If we do, maybe it is a ballgame. But hats off to Dalton. They have a great defense, my gosh. Whatever we tried to do, they were sitting there. They were disciplined and that is what makes them good.”
Southeast’s best drive of the night came on its second possession after Dalton scored on both of its drives to open the game for a 14-0 lead. Sophomore quarterback Will Swantic drove the Raiders 69 yards to the Dalton 11, but Cats sophomore cornerback Jordon McKinney made a stretching, fingertip interception in the back of the end zone to thwart the scoring attempt.
Eder Mora and Nathan Bryant also picked off a pass for the Cats.
“Turnovers are the lifeblood of the defense, and it is truly a gift to the offense,” Land said. “When they have a short field to work with, it sets your offense up exactly where it wants to be.”
Dalton drove seven plays for 68 yards on its opening possession with Kelvis Rhodes scoring on a 3-yard run. On their second possession, the Cats finished an 11-play, 62-yard drive with quarterback Payton Veraldi’s 1-yard option run to the end zone, and he later added a 26-yard touchdown run and completed a 30-yard scoring pass to Zek Cobb.
Tyler Noland capped off the first-half scoring with a 25-yard run, and he also had a 62-yard punt return for a touchdown.