DALTON, Ga. — Eder Mora doesn't have a catchy nickname, but after Friday night's 24-19 win over rival Northwest Whitfield, the Dalton sophomore linebacker might be known as "The Opportunist."
Mora, in addition to his usual dozen or so tackles, was in on three of the most critical plays of the Region 7-AAAA game. And his run on a fake punt in the first half set up one of Dalton's touchdowns and a 14-0 lead.
In the late stages of the game, with the Catamounts (3-4, 1-1) holding on against a suddenly surging Bruins offense, Mora intercepted a pass to stop one drive and later put the final nail in the visitors' coffin by recovering an onside kick.
"Our team just has great heart and we know we're better than we've played lately," said Mora, referring to back-to-back losses in which Dalton was outscored 83-28. "We play for everyone, the team and the community, and to beat Northwest is very big for this team. We expect to make the playoffs, and to do that we had to win tonight."
With sophomore tailback Kelvis Rhodes doing most of the damage, the Catamounts ran 20 plays to four for the Bruins in the first quarter and ended the period with a 13-play, 52-yard drive, with Rhodes scoring from 5 yards out. Later in the half, facing a third-and-3 from his team's own 27, Mora pulled off his fake for 24 yards, leading to another Rhodes score, this time from 18 yards out and a 14-0 lead.
Northwest (4-2, 1-1), meanwhile, twice drove deep into Dalton territory, only to see each drive end in a missed field goal.
"We didn't do a good job defensively, and our kicking game let us down," Northwest coach Josh Robinson said. "I'm not a brilliant man, but if we get the two field goals we win."
After a Dalton field goal on the second half's opening drive made it 17-0, Northwest's spread attack came to life. Quarterback Silas Ledford ended a quick 67-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Orozco, but the PAT was missed. Getting the ball right back, Ledford engineered a 57-yard drive that featured 6-foot-3, 225-pound O'Shea Hill's three catches for 26 yards, with Ledford ending the drive with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Andy Whisenant early in the final period.
The Northwest defense again forced a quick three-and-out, but on the second play Mora stepped in front of a Ledford pass and made a diving interception at the Bruins' 32. Six plays later, Cole Calfee sneaked in from the 1 for a 24-12 lead.
"They had been throwing that pass all night, so I just jumped it and made the catch," Mora said with a smile. "We needed a big play."
Northwest, though, did not quit, and with Ledford hitting seven of eight passes the Bruins scored with 3:07 remaining on Clay Phillips' 3-yard run to cut the lead to five, but the ensuing onside kick went to Mora, who pounced on it. With senior Marvin Hill subbing for the banged-up Rhodes, the Cats were able to eat up the clock.
"I've been coaching this defense for years, and this was not how Northwest Whitfield plays defense," said Robinson, whose team gave up 301 rushing yards. "We've got to do a better job, and as the coach I feel I didn't do my job tonight."
Rhodes had 178 of those yards, with Hill adding 52 big ones, all over the final eight minutes. Hill led all receivers with eight catches and 88 yards.
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 ...