DALTON, Ga. — Dalton High School football coach Matt Land wasn't kidding when he said the most impactful aspect of the Catamounts this year would be special teams.
In a game that was halted at halftime due to severe weather, Dalton recorded one of the most statistically odd wins in its lengthy and successful history. Despite gaining 37 total yards, the Cats defeated Ringgold 21-10 Friday thanks to a pair of special-teams returns from senior Tyis Love.
Love took the opening kickoff back 95 yards straight up the middle and cut left for a stunning 7-0 lead. Early in the second quarter, after the Tigers had tied it on an 80-yard drive, Love did it again, taking a punt back 98 yards, this time down the right sideline and again untouched.
"Special teams is something we spend a lot of time on," Land said. "Historically, we've experienced the fact that special teams can make a big difference in a game, and tonight was no exception.
"Tyis is a senior who has waited his time, and he's taking advantage of it. He fought through some things this summer, and now he's a big part of the team. Those were two of the best returns I've seen in a long time."
Ringgold, meanwhile, gained 190 yards in the two quarters, 126 through the air. Quarterback Cole Kibler sliced through the Dalton defense on the Tigers' first drive, hitting Dylan Wright for 47 yards on the first play and two plays later hitting 6-foot-2 receiver Andre Tarver on a slant for a 16-yard touchdown.
The Catamounts, after a 9-yard loss on first down, had to punt from the 19 on their ensuing possession, but special teams again stood out as Ivan Mora, despite dropping the snap, ripped off a 66-yard punt. It helped because Ringgold went from its 15 to the Dalton 30 before stalling.
The next Ringgold drive reached the Dalton 40 before bogging down again. Love fielded the punt at the 2 — and a handful of Tigers seemingly slowed thinking he would let the ball go in the end zone — and took off down the sideline for a 14-7 lead.
"Well, it's a good thing he returned it all the way, because he committed a big sin by picking that ball up at the 2," Land said with a laugh. "Tyis was going to run all the way to Chattanooga to make up for that one, but we'll give him a pass this time."
A personal foul led to a three-and-out for Ringgold, and Dalton took over at the Tigers' 41. Junior quarterback Landon Allen, in his first start since transferring from Notre Dame, got the Cats' initial first down on a 14-yard run. He then hit Bryce Houghton on a quick out, and the junior made a quick move inside for a touchdown.
Ringgold kept the ball for more than eight minutes on its next drive, mostly on the hard running of Dalton Green, but again the Catamounts stiffened, leading to a 25-yard field goal with 21 seconds to play in the half (and, it turns out, the game).
Lightning was detected just as the teams were headed out of their locker rooms, and they never returned to the field.
Kibler completed nine of 17 passes, Green had 45 yards on 10 carries and Wright had 62 yards on three receptions for the Tigers. Dalton star tailback Jahmyr Gibbs managed just 5 yards on two carries.
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296; follow on Twitter @youngsports22