RINGGOLD, Ga. - By all accounts Dakota Baer nearly played his way out of the lineup this summer, something the Dalton Catamounts would have liked to have seen.
Baer, the Ringgold High School senior middle linebacker, had the best game of his three-year starting career -- and, if you listen to his coaches, one of the program's best individual performances ever -- in a three-overtime win over Dalton last Friday. Funny how things can completely turn around in just a few days.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder, switched to outside linebacker this summer to take advantage of his mobility, had the Tigers' coaching staff scratching their heads after a poor showing in Ringgold's scrimmage against Ooltewah. Head coach Robert Akins and defensive coordinator Mark Davis went to Plan B and moved Baer back to the inside.
The result? Baer, motivated by his reassignment, terrorized the Catamounts with 15 solo tackles, five assists, three tackles for loss, one quarterback pressure, one pass breakup and one blocked extra point. In Davis' scoring system, Baer scored a 49, the highest score he's ever given a player. Not surprisingly, the energetic senior will stay in the middle.
"That will tell you what a dumb coach I am," Akins said with a laugh. "We thought he would help us more inside, but against Ooltewah he hurt us because he was trying to rush the quarterback instead of playing the jet sweep. Well, we moved him back inside and he has probably the best game I've ever seen from a linebacker."
Baer was just glad to win his coaches' confidence back.
"I feel more comfortable inside because I see the play better," he said. "I don't have to worry about the pass as much and can just make plays. The biggest difference against Dalton was that I listened to my coaches and did what was expected of me."
Part of that listening involves keeping his emotions in check, something that has gotten Baer out of his game in the past.
"Dakota has such a high motor that sometimes you have to reel him in a bit," Davis said. "He had some personal-foul issues last year, and he's too important to this defense to get thrown off his game like that. He really responded last week, though. We challenged him after our scrimmage, and he showed what he can do."
Two plays stood out against Dalton. One was the blocked point-after kick in the second overtime, which came after he had just missed one earlier. The other was a touchdown-saving tackle of speedy Dalton receiver Zek Cobb down the sideline on a perfectly executed screen pass.
"We are still talking about that play," Akins said. "That kid is fast and Dakota came out of nowhere to catch him. He was just a force the other night, and now he knows what he can do."
Baer and his Tigers' teammates are trying to put the Dalton win -- just the second in 45 games versus the Cats -- behind them and focus on a Heritage team that went winless last year but would love nothing more than to burst the Ringgold bubble.
"The Dalton game is a turning point for this team, but we have to realize the guys across the street [Heritage] want to beat us as badly as we wanted to beat Dalton," Baer said. "We have to take care of business or last week doesn't mean so much."
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or at 423-757-6296.