RINGGOLD, Ga. -- Though his football team came out on the short end of a 21-19 decision Friday night against Dalton, it was hard for Ringgold coach Robert Akins to find many downsides.
The game marked the debut of the rebuilt Don Patterson Field and a standing-room-only crowd -- four-deep in one end zone -- saw the Tigers nearly rally from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit before a fumble-causing sack by Dalton defensive star Robert Hardaway helped seal the game.
"We had chances to win and we knew turnovers would be crucial," Akins said "But our kids fought hard and Dalton's kids fought hard, and it was a great high school football game. We hate to lose, but we know we're going to improve each week, and if we can play a Class AAAA school like Dalton the way we did tonight, we'll do well down the road."
Dalton sophomore tailback Kelvis Rhodes stole the show early with a 56-yard touchdown run on his first carry, then seemingly put the game out of reach with a 4-yard score seven seconds into the final quarter for a 21-6 Dalton lead.
Ringgold, which had matched Dalton's early score with an 87-yard drive (though missing the PAT), needed only three plays to answer, with quarterback Dale finding Christian Plott on a 40-yard touchdown pass. The try for two points, however, came up short when Dale was stopped inches from the goal line.
A Rhodes fumble two plays later -- the only Dalton turnover despite five fumbles -- set up the Tigers on the Catamounts' 42. Five plays and a Dalton personal-foul penalty later, Dale hit Kile Sholl on a 10-yard touchdown pass, with the PAT cutting the lead to two with 7:32 still to play.
A Dalton three-and-out, which included a 15-yard loss on a reverse, led to a punt from the 16, but sophomore Eder Mora boomed a 52-yarder that rolled to the Ringgold 32. Dale scrambled for 16 yards into Dalton territory, but on third down Hardaway jarred the ball loose, with Mora recovering with 2:45 remaining.
"Our defense stepped it up when we had to," Dalton coach Matt Land said. "We lost some games last year on turnovers, and we won this one on turnovers. You'll take them any way you can get them, and I'm just glad to get out of here with a victory."
Ringgold got the ball back one last time and made it to the Dalton 47 after another Catamounts penalty, but two consecutive holding calls put the Tigers out of reach and the final play ended at the Dalton 39.
"The emotions of being back -- it was a great feeling -- but I don't feel they had anything to do with the mistakes made on the field," Akins said. "This was a great day for Ringgold, and this team will be all right."
Echoed Land: "That's why I like high school football. It's all about moms and dads and kids coming out and watching a game. You couldn't ask for a better venue and a better crowd."