From Staff Reports
After its most complete victory of the year, Dalton will step onto the larger stage of the Class 4A state playoffs, taking a trip Friday night to Atlanta to face No. 9-state ranked Carver.
The two teams will meet at 7:30 p.m. at Atlanta’s Lakewood Stadium.
Dalton’s 42-0 blanking of Pickens in a Region 7-4A crossover game to determine playoff teams was the highlight of a Friday night that went south for the rest of the area’s teams. Northwest Whitfield fell in triple overtime to Gilmer 40-37 to give the Bobcats the region’s fourth playoff spot. Ridgeland beat River Ridge for the region championship, and both teams will be at home in the first round. Gilmer will travel to second-ranked Marist.
In other games from this past Friday night, Christian Heritage had its playoff hopes seriously dashed and must await the release of the Class A Power Rankings on Wednesday to see if the Lions made one of the spots in the 16-team playoffs after a 27-14 loss to King’s Ridge Christian.
Also, Cedartown erased a fourth-quarter deficit to top Southeast Whitfield 19-17, Coosa beat Murray County 41-14, Adairsville clinched a playoff spot with a 49-7 win over Coahulla Creek and North Murray fell 50-26 to Gordon Central.
Dalton will make its second straight trip to the playoffs after representing the region last year as the No. 4 seed and falling on the road to Gainesville. But the Cats are certainly on a high after dominating Pickens like no other team has this season. Dalton led 21-0 at the half and then tacked on 21 more points in the third quarter, while the defense recorded its second shutout of the season to earn MoonPies at practice today.
It was a direct contrast to a Dalton team which had struggled to pull wins over Southeast Whitfield and Heritage in the weeks leading up to the all-or-nothing game with the Dragons.
“This could have been the seniors’ last game, and I guess that is what gave us the edge and we just wanted to come out and dominate tonight,” senior defensive end Laighton Reece said. “It gave us a lot of motivation. We’ve been focusing on the big plays and the defensive coaches have hit it hard about eliminating big plays. We did that tonight.”
Offensively, sophomore running back Kelvis Rhodes finished with 182 yards on 16 carries, while fullbacks Robert Hardaway and Eder Mora combined for 148 yards on 16 carries.
“They just beat us up and down the field,” first-year Pickens coach Chris Parker said. “Give them all the credit in the world.”
In Carver, the Cats will face a team coming off of its first loss of the season, and it was a loss in dominating fashion. Marist, which lost its season opener but has now reeled off nine straight wins, shut Carver’s offense down and scored seemingly at will in a 42-14 victory. The game will be played on a renovated Lakewood Stadium, which had a SportsTurf artificial surface installed in 2011. In order to prepare for this week’s game on the carpet, Dalton coach Matt Land said his team would likely utilize the turf fields at Dalton Parks and Recreation Department facilities some time this week.
• CHRISTIAN HERITAGE: Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers.
The Christian Heritage Lions offense lost three fumbles and quarterback Trevor Brown tossed an interception, all in the first half. The second half saw two more interceptions.
The final pick of the night sealed the game for King’s Ridge Christian.
Down 20-7, Christian Heritage was driving as the game was winding down. Brown seemingly completed a pass, but the receiver bobbled the ball into the hands of a King’s Ridge Christian defender. He raced 65 yards for the score. The extra point gave King’s Ridge Christian an insurmountable 27-7 lead late in the fourth quarter.
On the positive side, Brown tossed two touchdown passes to receiver Will Fischer. However, the turnovers proved to difficult to overcome.
• COAHULLA CREEK: After coming up empty offensively in its last two games, Coahulla Creek ended the season on a high note — a 40-yard reception by Michael Ward from quarterback Blaine Williams on the final play of the season.
Although losing five seniors will create a void, Colts coach Jared Hamlin sees promise in his young crop of players. The depth will be evident in 2013, with 15 returning starters on both sides of the ball.
“I’m proud of them,” Hamlin said. “I look forward to continuing this process. I’m proud of the way they’ve grown. Those seniors, we hate to lose them. We’re going to miss them and they’re all good young men. We wish we could get them back because we didn’t have them for very long. They weren’t raised with us.”
Hamlin was disappointed in the 2-8 inaugural varsity campaign for the school, but he knows that it is the first step on a bigger journey.
“It was a struggle this year, in a tough region,” he said. “We learned a lot of things — all of us. They’re sharp enough to know and see and learn from the things that happened this year that’s going to make them better. If we can commit ourselves to that growth, we’re going to be an even better team next year.”
• MURRAY COUNTY: Despite suffering its second winless season in a row on the field, Murray County head football coach John Hammond is optimistic about his program’s future.
“We have two great groups coming up,” Hammond said. “I’ve seen the eighth graders. They have a mixture of good speed and size. They have some good skill players, and some good-sized linemen. The main thing is to get them out here in the weight room, and start them working.”
Hammond said one of his goals for the next few years is to increase the number of players.
“We need to increase participation,” Hammond said. “We are looking to get some kids out here, and head them all in the same direction. I told our juniors last night ‘the torch is passed to you.’ We need them to be pro-active. Find a sport and play it. Get in the weight room, run track, play basketball or baseball, whatever you can do to keep active.”
Although the Indians are winless on the field in two years, he is proud of the students that have participated in the football program, and believes that there is more to football than the won-lost record.
“Of course, winning football games is what we want,” Hammond said. “But there are more important things than football. We have some great kids who are good in the classroom. Many of our former players have gone on to do well in college, and hold down jobs and be successful in life. That is what football is supposed to teach the kids. It is what you want your own kids to do.
“We’re not just here to win football games. We’re here for the kids. They have to know you care about them. That’s what going to the hospital (Friday night) was all about. You have to look after them.”
Hammond went to see linebacker Seth Gardner who broke his leg in Friday night’s game. Hammond said he expects a full recovery, and for Gardner to be on the field for the 2013 season, which will be his senior year.
• NORTH MURRAY: Despite the loss to Gordon Central, the Mountaineers can walk proudly through the halls and pass the torch over to the next class with much greater expectations next season.
After a 1-9 campaign in 2010 and an 0-10 record last year, the Mountaineers responded in a big way to new head coach David Gann, who led the team to a 5-5 record this season.
“This is all about these seniors,” Gann said. “I can’t explain how much hard work and effort they have given this season.”
Highlighted by victories over high-classification opponents Southeast and Johnson-Gainesville, North Murray was 3-0 before entering Region 5-3A play, but managed just a 2-5 mark in the region.
• NORTHWEST WHITFIELD: For a while, the Bruins’ 40-37 triple-overtime loss to Gilmer looked a lot like another local football team’s encounter with the Bobcats.
On Sept. 21, Dalton beat Gilmer 28-21 in an overtime Region 7-4A crossover matchup where at one point the Bobcats led 21-7 in the fourth quarter. A blocked field goal, Catamounts score, missed potential game-clinching field goal with less than two minutes to play and another Dalton score tied it, 20-20. The Cats scored first in overtime and the Bobcats were stopped on four straight plays from the 1-yard line.
“We have had this experience I think three times in the past two years where we’ve been in overtime and had to win in overtime,” Gilmer coach Wesley Tankersley said. “No, I think it’s four times. We’ve won three of them.”
In Northwest’s comeback, it again was a 14-point swing and again in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Silas Ledford found O’Shea Hill on an 81-yard score on a fourth-and-8 play to make it a 20-13 game and the Bruins scored again just minutes later to tie the game. Northwest copied Dalton by scoring first in overtime but Gilmer found a way to score on its responding possession, which made sure the game wouldn’t completely go the same way. After trading touchdowns in the second overtime, Gilmer held Northwest to a field goal and scored a touchdown on the next play.
Gilmer running back Colt Henderson, who scored the game-winner and twice earlier, praised Northwest’s team, especially in comparison to the Bruins’ rivals in Dalton.
“That team right there is harder hitting than Dalton ever thought about being,” Henderson said. “That was one of the hardest-hitting football games I’ve ever played in.”
• SOUTHEAST WHITFIELD: How improved was the Raiders’ defense by the time the season finale against Cedartown?
Consider that earlier this year in a Cedartown win over Southeast, Chubb, the state’s leading regular-season rusher ever, ran for 366 yards and seven touchdowns. On Friday night, he was limited to 237 yards, but it was again Chubb who proved to be the difference as the Bulldogs erased a 10-7 fourth-quarter deficit to take the two-point victory.
The decisive score came with 3:31 left on a Chubb 1-yard run. A blocked extra point, though, gave Southeast the hope that the two-point deficit could be overcome by a field goal.
However, the Raiders fumbled away the next kickoff, and the Bulldogs ran out the clock for the final 3:30.
“Give Southeast credit,” said Cedartown coach Scott Hendrix. “They slowed the ball down. We only had one possession in the third quarter. Chubb was not running on air. We had people blocking for him.”
“Chubb’s a great back,” Southeast first-year coach Sean Gray said. “We contained him until the fourth quarter. They beat us 20 points in the first game. Our seniors have built a great foundation.”
Click here to sign up to receive text alerts on your team.