For one team, the job is disrupting the pass. For the other, it is stuffing the run.
When Dalton kicks off the 2012 high school football season at 7:30 tonight at Ringgold, both coaches hope to win all battles at the line of scrimmage. For the visiting Catamounts, the top objectives are running the football and getting pressure on Ringgold’s quarterback. For Ringgold, those tasks are stopping that run and protecting the ball.
“They’re always big on their line,” Dalton coach Matt Land said of the Tigers. “That’s one of the things we’re concerned about. We’re not very big on the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball. That’s something where we’re going to have to hunker down and play one of our better games this year. That is something that will be a test for us.”
Land plans to rely a lot on his multiple-I offense’s committee-style rushing attack this season, although if last week’s scrimmage against Adairsville is any indication, a sophomore will lead that group. Kelvis Rhodes, a tailback and first-year starter, had 14 carries for 60 yards in the 35-14 win, while seniors Jerry Moreno and Marvin Hill combined for 5 yards on four carries.
“That’s one of the things that is not a secret,” Land said. “Any team that plays Dalton knows we are going to want to run the ball.”
The Tigers return six starters on each side of the ball from last season’s 6-5 squad, including junior linebacker Dakota Baer and senior cornerback Kanaan Briner. Ringgold’s defense bases out of a 4-4 front.
“(Run defense) is a strength of their team; that is the word we got last year,” Land said. “I think that will be a big part of the initial phase of the game, as far as who can break through that physical barrier first.”
Despite not being in the same classification or region for 2012 — Dalton is in Sub-region 7B-4A and Ringgold in Region 5-3A — the teams know one another well, and the series has been one-sided. Dalton is 42-1 overall, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association website (ghsfha.org), and 9-0 since 2001, with a combined score of 282-73 over that stretch.
Last season, when Dalton and Ringgold were both in Sub-region 7A-3A, the Cats won 28-16.
“I know the last two times we’ve played them they ran forever on us,” said Ringgold coach Robert Akins, who is 29-22 entering his sixth season leading the Tigers. “(Tre) Beck ran on us one year and (Tre) Bonds ran on us last year. You’ll lose the ballgame against a good running team, because they will control the clock.”
And on the other side, Dalton’s 4-4 front must put pressure on Ringgold’s starting quarterback, Slade Dale. The junior started all 11 games last season, picking up 2,000 all-purpose yards and 16 touchdowns. He started getting playing time as a freshman and knows Akins’ offense well. The weapons at Dale’s disposal include junior wide receiver Caleb Peters and sophomore two-way athlete Kile Sholl.
Dalton senior defensive ends Robert Hardaway and Laighton Reese will be coming off the edges against an experienced Ringgold offensive line. The Tigers returned four of their five starters: Bryan Derben, Ryan Emmer, Zach Shahan and Caleb Hamby.
“I think that is your goal with any quarterback, particularly early in the game,” Land said. “Maybe everybody doesn’t have their timing down yet. You want to disrupt routes as much as possible.
“The big thing is you don’t want a quarterback to get comfortable and find a groove. He’s a great passer, has a good arm and a good height. I think that’s going to be one of the challenges for our defense is not letting him find that groove.”
Said Hardaway, “We have a lot of things that we do from different tendencies and plays that we have to recognize and make reads on. ... Pressure comes with that.”
One of the things that troubled Ringgold in last year’s loss to Dalton was turnovers.
“On the offensive side, and out of the first four series, we have three turnovers and a three-and-out,” Akins said. “If we give them turnovers, it puts you (in a bad spot.) We had a lot of turnovers last year and lost 28-16. That doesn’t ever change in football. The team with the most turnovers loses.”
The game is taking place one week earlier than most area teams, who begin play Aug. 31, and the Tigers will hold a ceremony at 7 p.m. to rededicate the stadium to its namesake, former longtime Ring-gold coach Don Patterson. The stadium was reconstructed and a synthetic turf field was installed following its destruction by a tornado on April 27, 2011.
In addition to Dalton’s radio broadcast on WYYU-104.5 FM, the game will air on television as the EPB Fiber Optics High School Football Game of the Week, which is broadcast on ThisTV. That network is available on cable providers Comcast (Channel 208), Charter (174) and OptiLink (157).