CARROLLTON, Ga. - Well after the initial celebration of their first outright state soccer championship had ended, the Dalton soccer Catamounts stood around the bench laughing, talking about ring sizes and dinner plans.
Nobody else remained on the field -- symbolic for the fact that nobody had been on their level all season.
The top-ranked Catamounts scored three goals in the first 20 minutes of their Class AAAA championship match against crosstown rival Southeast Whitfield and cruised to the title with what turned out to be a 5-0 victory at the University of West Georgia soccer complex.
Friday capped what was a dominating season for Dalton (22-0). The Catamounts outscored their opponents 134-8 over the season, scored 10 goals on six occasions and had five mercy-rule matches. Only one opponent -- Johnson in the second round of the playoffs -- finished with a single-goal deficit.
Yet the Catamounts had to beat another Dalton school to claim the second soccer title in school history. Dalton High tied Heritage in the 2003 title match.
"It feels too good," said Dalton senior Ramiro Huitanda, who scored the match's final goal. "This team worked for this in practice. We weren't selfish and showed what a real team is. We knew we had a pretty good chance to win it all from day one, but we never stopped trying to reach this goal."
Salvador Rodriguez put the Catamounts on the board in the third minute, scoring from about 40 yards out on a free kick. Eder Mora made it 2-0 in the 10th from an Andres Barragan corner kick, and then Daniel Palacios scored an unassisted goal in the box in the 20th minute.
"Getting out to that early lead worked out really well for us," Dalton coach Matt Cheaves said. "We got the lead and never let go. Those first couple of goals really broke their spirit."
Mora assisted Alan Pantaleon for a goal in the 26th minute.
Southeast's Raiders (13-5-1) found themselves scrambling for an answer. Coach Kevin Kettenrng made wholesale substitutions in the first half, unhappy with how the team started.
"All we worked on in practice was the early stuff," he said. "We shot ourselves in the foot; it's my belief those goals were preventable. Dalton takes advantage of every mistake and I'm not taking anything away from them, but the first two, three goals were preventable. You can't do it once; you can't do it twice; you can't do it at all.
"Dalton put us on our heels, but we didn't help ourselves because we can't bury ourselves early. Once you dig yourselves that deep of a hole, it's impossible to do anything."
After the match was over and the celebrations were winding down, Cheaves pulled the Catamounts together and told them they were the best team he's ever coached.
"They are an amazing group of boys," he said. "The attitude they came with was amazing. You can have a lot of talent, but if you have bad attitudes or selfish players, it can ruin everything.
"I told the guys that the trophy wasn't important; the rings weren't important. What is important is the positive things you can do. I hope we're able to find a way to glorify God with the good things we've done this year."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.