DALTON, Ga. — There is flash aplenty on the Dalton High School football team.
The 12-0 Catamounts, ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 (depending on the source) in Georgia's second-largest classification, have a 1,000-yard rusher, a 1,900-yard passer and two senior receivers headed to FBS college programs.
Ask most people familiar with the Catamounts, though, and they will say, while the flash is nice, the smash is what has made the team unbeaten so far. The Dalton defense, allowing only 12 points a game, has been a rock all season, especially against the run.
Only a couple of teams have managed to break 100 yards on the ground against this Smash unit. Ask head coach Matt Land the secret and he gets nearly giddy.
"It's a treat having those two big tackles," he says of twin peaks John Wesley Whiteside and Max Mainor. "They are going to create some sort of problem on every play, and the rest of the guys just feed off it."
The two seniors — who bring a combined 641 pounds to the middle of the line — don't just clog the rush lanes. They, as Land said, disrupt. The pair have a combined 76 tackles and 10 sacks on a defense that has 64 tackles for loss and 23 takeaways.
Offenses can't afford to single-block them both, and when they throw extra blockers at them the talented Dalton linebacking corps cleans up.
"When our linebackers and defensive backs don't have to worry about stuff between the tackles, it helps us do some things that we haven't been able to do before," Land said. "John Wesley knows that he's going to be double-teamed, and when that happens Max takes advantage of it. When Max gets double-teamed John Wesley gets blocked one-on-one, and he disrupts the play."
Whiteside's arrival this season as a transfer from nearby Christian Heritage helped lift Mainor into the force he's been. The two know each other's moves so well that they often appear choreographed. What one accomplishes the other relishes, knowing he had a hand in it.
"He's really good," Mainor said. "It's good knowing I can count on him to make tackles if I get blocked or don't do something right. He's taught me a lot of moves to help my pass rush, and it's improved my overall game."
The mentor, though, admits his pupil often makes him look bad.
"He uses moves better than I do right now," Whiteside said with a laugh. "It's so natural for him. It's crazy because if I don't get the tackle, he will. Max is good, real good, and we work real well together. We know going in that running backs won't get much on us up the middle."
That's the hope again tonight as the Cats face their biggest challenge of the season in the quarterfinals against visiting Coffee County. The Trojans are one of three teams left from powerful Region 1 and bring size, speed and a confidence into Harmon Field.
Coffee runs a spread offense and will throw the ball 30 to 40 times with quarterback Max Hughes and a strong group of receivers. However, the Trojans also have 1,300-yard rusher Demetrius Davis, a home-run hitter who burns defenses when they start dropping more players into coverage or resort to blitzing to slow Hughes.
If Whiteside, Mainor and their line mates can continue to dominate, the Dalton hope is the Trojans will become one-dimensional.
"They can gash you if you drop eight, and if you try to rush seven or eight they will kill you with the pass," Land said. "We think we can play pretty much straight up and those big guys in the middle are again going to be key for us."
To that end, the Catamounts hope to prove early tonight that even an offense as good as Coffee's will have to alter what it wants to do.
"The first couple of drives will set the tone," Whiteside said. "If we come out and bust them in the mouth, we will be all right. They won't be intimidated, for sure, so we have to show them we won't be, either."
Contact Lindsey Young at email@example.com or at 423-757-6296; follow on Twitter @youngsports22