DALTON, Ga. - If the eight-year-old Dalton-Calhoun football rivalry has taught us anything, it's to never anticipate a certain style of game.
Take the past two meetings, for instance. In 2012 there were more than 1,000 yards of offense as Calhoun rode the hot hand of senior quarterback Taylor Lamb in a wild 56-41 win. Last year, however, the offenses were asleep as the Yellow Jackets claimed a 17-2 win.
The two teams meet again Friday at Dalton, and the only insight the coaches are giving is that they're not worried about previous games or what the other team is doing.
"It's been a different kind of game every year, but we just plan to do what we do and adjust as we need to," said Calhoun coach Hal Lamb, whose team has won the last five meetings. "I will say this Dalton team is very good, one of the better teams we will have faced in the eight years. Their offense is much improved."
Dalton is determined to be more balanced on offense. A year ago, with two unproven quarterbacks sharing time, the passing game was nonexistent against Calhoun and the Jackets' defense had little trouble stopping a run game that was missing injured star tailback Kelvis Rhodes, who exceeded 200 yards rushing in the 2012 shootout.
The senior also will miss Friday's game after violating school policy before the season. He likely will be back for North Atlanta next week, coach Matt Land indicated. In the meantime, Dalton ran for 342 yards in last week's win at Scottsboro, Ala., and Tyler Noland had 183 of those yards on 19 carries.
Lamb believes the Catamounts' improved passing game is a concern for a Calhoun secondary with three new starters. Senior quarterback Payton Veraldi, after a strong summer, claimed the job outright and was an efficient 11-for-17 for 150 yards and two scores last week. More worrisome for the Jackets are Veraldi's targets, who include an emerging star in sophomore Zek Cobb, steady Peter Sigmon and Mercer commitment Chase Westfall at tight end.
"Veraldi, to me, has made tremendous improvements, and he makes them go," Lamb said. "I expect them to be very balanced, and we're going to have to worry more about the passing game."
Calhoun, which did not play last week, will be breaking in a new starting quarterback, junior Kaelen Riley, and three new starting receivers. Lamb expects some growing pains early but was encouraged by his offense's work in preseason camp.
"Kaelen has looked good and he's been a nice leader for us," said Lamb of the multisport star. "I feel good about our football team. As usual, I believe turnovers will be a big key for an early game."
For Dalton, despite the improved passing game, the first priority is to win the war up front and run the ball.
"We feel more comfortable throwing the ball this year, but we want to be a physical running team. That's just who we are," Land said. "The game will dictate a lot of things, but that's why we schedule them, because there are no surprises and the team that executes better will win."
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