DALTON, Ga. - The Dalton Catamounts made sure there would be no late-game drama Friday night as they played for their playoff lives. They used a devastating ground game and took advantage of several Pickens County first-half miscues to win going away at Harmon Field, 42-0.
Dalton (7-3) secured the No. 3 seed from Region 7-AAAA and will play on the road at Atlanta's Carver High School next Friday in the first round of the state playoffs.
"That's a first. We've been struggling all year to put together four quarters," senior two-way star Robert Hardaway said. "We thank the Lord for that. A lot of it was the whole possibility of not getting to play again and this likely being our last game at Harmon. It was time to put it together."
Sophomore running back Kelvis Rhodes had 182 of Dalton's 403 yards rushing, with Hardaway adding 100 on eight carries. Rhodes and quarterback Cole Calfee each had two touchdown runs and Hardaway added another as the offensive line continually gashed the Dragons.
"They had a size advantage over us, but tonight, as Coach [Bill] Chappell used to say, it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it was the size of the fight in the dog," Dalton coach Matt Land said. "It was the most complete game we've played offensively. Our line made some great adjustments and did some things that you don't draw up on the sideline. They saw them do some things they hadn't done all season, and our guys adjusted to it on the fly."
The Dragons (5-5) had 200 yards of offense in the first half but had three drives end deep in Dalton territory on an interception and two turnovers on downs, including one where star tailback Shannon Brooks dropped a would-be touchdown pass in the end zone.
Dalton, meanwhile, ended its first possession on a fumble but scored on its next six possessions. A Rhodes 45-yard run keyed the first drive, with Calfee sneaking over from the 2, while a Calfee-to-Brandon Dale 36-yard pass was the second drive's big play, resulting in another Calfee TD sneak.
After Brooks' end-zone drop, it took Dalton only six plays to cover 33 yards and grab a 21-0 halftime lead, with Rhodes scoring from 18 yards. An Ethan Marlow blocked punt set up the Cats on the Pickens 31 early in the second half and Hardaway made the Dragons pay with a 40-yard scoring run, essentially putting the game away.
"The offensive line, without a doubt, was the key to this game," Hardaway saud. "If you can't block, you can't run it. To a man they did a great job. We look forward to playing next week, and we're going to be confident but humble."
Brooks led Pickens with 118 yards on 13 carries, 99 of the yards coming in the first half.