GAINESVILLE, Ga. -- Of all the obstacles the Dalton Catamounts have faced during this most tumultuous of football seasons, none proved to be more difficult than finding a way to control Gainesville's young superstar Deshaun Watson.
The Red Elephants' sophomore quarterback had a hand in seven touchdowns and amassed 315 total yards as 10-1 Gainesville ended Dalton's season, 48-27, in the GHSA Class AAA playoffs Friday. The 6-foot-3 rifle-armed, fleet-footed Watson, who already has more than 20 college scholarship offers, rushed for 149 yards and two scores and passed for 266 and five more.
Dalton's final record will read 4-7, with four victories forfeited for playing what the GHSA ruled to be an ineligible player. With it also ends the Catamounts' streak of 51 consecutive winning seasons, believed to be the longest in state history.
"This team has accomplished so much this year, and I couldn't be more proud of a group of young men," Dalton coach Matt Land said. "Their quarterback was a special player and he made some incredible plays."
Watson's most lethal blow came on the first half's final play when he connected with 6-foot-2 receiver Caleb Hayman for a 30-yard touchdown, extending a seven-point lead to 27-13. The score came 1:16 after Dalton scored on a Hunter Cleary 8-yard run to cap a 12-play, 78-yard drive that had the Catamounts feeling good about themselves.
"I just threw it up there and Caleb went up and got it," Watson said. "I give the credit to my receivers and line, and we had to put up the points because they're a good team."
As dynamic as Watson was, Dalton actually outgained Gainesville, 421 yards to 382. Tre Beck, in his second full game back after breaking his leg earlier in the season, led the Cats with 109 yards on just nine carries to pace a ground attack that amassed 319 yards.
That rushing attack keyed a 14-play, 80-yard drive to start the second half, with Dalton again pulling within seven when quarterback Cole Calfee found tight end McLean Davies from 5 yards out on fourth-and-goal. The drive ate up eight minutes on the clock, but Watson and crew needed only three minutes to provide the answer.
Watson's 30-yard run put the Red Elephants in Dalton territory and two plays later he connected with favorite target Tray Harrison for a 23-yard touchdown. The two had connected earlier on a 79-yard catch-and-run touchdown a week after combining for five scores.
"He's a great receiver," Watson said. "I know if I get him the ball he's going to make something happen."
Dalton, which had only one drive not reach Gainesville territory, drove to the 41 on its next possession, but the drive stalled and Land elected to punt early in the final quarter. However, Watson and running back Michael Byrd combined for 11 runs to steadily move the ball downfield, with Watson hitting Justin Cantrell with the insurance touchdown.
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...