DALTON, Ga. — At a high school football program with as rich and storied a tradition as the Dalton Catamounts, senior night and homecoming games are like family heirlooms and hand-me-down tales passed through generations.
When those two ceremonial nights fall on the same Friday -- and when the opponent is a longtime rival like LaFayette -- the opportunity is special and the stakes are lofty.
For senior tailback Tre Bonds and junior defensive end Robert Hardaway, the moment was magical and their magic was all over Dalton's 30-14 win at Harmon Field.
"Tough. He runs so hard and so tough," LaFayette coach Tab Gable said of Bonds. "He's a really good back."
Bonds' growth into a featured back is part of a Dalton transformation that has armed the Catamounts with playmakers on each side of the ball.
Bonds started his senior season as a receiver, but an injury to Tre Beck, who is close to returning to the lineup, forced Bonds into the backfield. He has handled the running chores like an old pro, and Friday he played the part of All-Pro, running for 216 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries.
Bonds was the focal point of a ground-dominated Dalton attack. The Cats finished with 328 total yards -- all of it on the ground.
After Dalton's Matt Cobb and Devarus Porter traded touchdown runs, Bonds gave the Cats the lead for good with his first scoring run.
"We wanted to throw a little more, but we knew LaFayette has an explosive team and we wanted to limit their possessions," Dalton coach Matt Land said after his team attempted two passes -- both in the final minute of the first half. "And we knew the best defense can be a good offense that controls the ball."
A good offense can be a good defense, but coupled with a big-play defense it can be dominating.
Senior Dante' Thomas returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown to extend the Dalton lead to 21-7 in the second quarter.
LaFayette scored late in the first half on a 15-yard pass from McKenzie Kelehea to Demarcus Simpson to cut it to 21-14, but that was as close as the Ramblers would get because of the unrelenting Dalton ground game and the tireless Hardaway, who finished with six tackles for loss, including three sacks.
"Hustle. That's what it is, hustle," said Hardaway, who like Bonds changed positions early this season, shifting to defensive end to fill a void. "When we play with intensity and emotion, we can play with anyone and get the job done."
The Catamounts, who are still awaiting word from the Georgia High School Association about the eligibility questions of senior Corey Smith, close the regular season next week against Southeast Whitfield.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...