DALTON, Ga. -- Friday night's 42-21 win over Heritage may not have been the most polished game Matt Land has been a part of, but considering the circumstances, it was a beauty.
Land, the Dalton head coach who was placed on probation this week after a halftime incident a week ago Friday involving one of his players, was emotional following a performance in which the Catamounts ran up a season-best 533 total yards.
"This is our sanctuary, and it was good to get on the football field tonight," Land said. "I wasn't worried about the distractions. These guys have exceptional focus on the task at hand. The assistant coaches and players did a fantastic job of preparing for Heritage."
The offense attracted most of the praise, specifically the line that helped Dalton rushers gain 416 yards, including 191 and three touchdowns for senior tailback Tre Bonds.
"I loved our offensive line tonight," Land said of Robert and Brad Alexander, B.J. Roland, Brady Willocks, Jake Roberts, Elias Ortega and tight end Will Erwin. "I bet these guys will grade 95 to 98 percent tonight. What I saw was our guys hitting them on their side of the line first. The offensive line really won this game for us tonight."
Despite the prolific ground attack, the Catamounts (4-2, 2-0 Region 7-AAA) may have gotten their biggest play through the air. The Generals (4-2, 0-2) had just tied the game at 7 on Jake Sampson's 11-yard pass to Cody Sherlin with four seconds to play in the opening quarter when Dalton answered quickly with an 80-yard Cole Calfee-to-Erwin touchdown that was aided by a key block from Brandon Dale.
"Will is a guy we want to get the ball to, but people have been covering him all year," Land said. "He showed what he could do when he got the ball, and Brandon Dale made a great hustle play downfield. We had a lot of big plays, but that might have been the biggest."
Heritage fumbled on its next play, starting the second quarter, with Dalton's Scott Abernathy recovering at the Generals' 35. Seven plays later, all on the ground, fullback Matt Cobb bulled in from the 5 for a 21-7 lead.
Heritage, though, would not go away quietly. On the very next play a red-hot Sampson went up top for a 55-yard touchdown to Jacob Carter that cut the lead to seven, where it would stay at halftime.
The second half began with more firepower. Dalton needed only five plays to cover 77 yards, the key play a 26-yard Dale reception. Bonds got the first of his three scores from 12 yards out. The Dalton defense finally got a stop, but only after Heritage was held on downs at the Dalton 18, but six plays later the lead would grow to 35-14 when Bonds ripped off a 30-yard score.
Bonds, who has gained more than 800 yards since Tre Beck went down with an injury a month ago, later added a 6-yard touchdown run. He echoed his coach's praise of the line and the fact the team enjoyed getting back on the football field after a tough week.
"The offensive line opened up some big holes for me and my fullbacks that led to some big runs," he said. "We just tried to stay focused. We couldn't worry about all the stuff going on with our coach. That was grown-up business, and we had a game to get ready for. It was hard to stay focused, but we did and managed to get a big win."
Fullbacks Hunter Cleary and Cobb added 105 and 86 yards, respectively, for Dalton. Sampson had a big night for Heritage with 258 yards and three touchdowns on 18 completions, with 165 yards on eight catches and two touchdowns going to Carter.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...