DALTON, Ga. -- If there is a tight moment late in this high school football season for the Dalton Catamounts, a six-minute span of Friday night's 28-0 Region 7-AAAA win over Ridgeland will serve as a reminder of what this team can do. Coach Matt Land is counting on it.
Dalton (3-2, 1-0) stopped a Ridgeland drive at the 2-yard line late in the first half while leading 13-0. The Catamounts, behind quarterback Payton Veraldi's tough running, proceeded to mount a 16-play drive, culminating with Eder Mora's 3-yard run, to essentially put the game away.
"That drive was the best thing we can take out of this game offensively," Land said. "Sixteen plays and 5:15. This was the five minutes we talk about all the time. As the thing to build on from here on, that was it. Our offense grew up in those minutes, and I'm very, very pleased with that."
Of course, the Dalton defense stole the show. Led by safety Mora's constant presence and a linebacking corps that refused to give up the edge, the Catamounts limited Ridgeland (1-4, 0-1) to 94 total yards. In addition to the key goal-line stop late in the second quarter, the Cats were forced to make a stand right off the bat following a fumble on the opening kickoff.
Starting at the Dalton 21, the Panthers managed just 3 yards before a penalty moved them back to the 23, where a 40-yard field-goal attempt came up well short. The Cats were forced to punt after a three-and-out, but Mora helped force and then recovered a fumble on Ridgeland's first play at the 16, and two plays later Veraldi hit Peter Sigmon for a 9-yard touchdown pass.
"Our defense played its tail off from the beginning to the end," Land said. "They stepped up and gave us some turnovers and made two big stands.
"The one thing I take away as a coach is that, once again, nobody gave up and they kept fighting even when we did some things poorly."
Veraldi was another bright spot after passing for 110 yards and two touchdowns and running for one more in his first game after the Catamounts lost co-quarterback Jase Chastain last week to a season-ending leg injury. With a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter, Veraldi connected with tight end Chase Westfall for a 50-yard score, with Westfall breaking three tackles after catching the ball at the 30.
Any Ridgeland comeback hopes were dashed early in the second half when, after Tyler Noland returned a punt 46 yards to the 9, Veraldi capped the brief drive with a 1-yard run.
"We had great protection up front," Veraldi said. "They opened up good running holes and passing lanes. My prayers are with Jase and his family, and I wish him the best. As an offense we're getting better and better each day. It feels great to get this first region win, and we have a big one next week."
Ridgeland, already hit with the injury bug, lost leading rusher Noah Cooper (41 yards on 13 carries) with an ankle injury in the second half.
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6296.
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 ...
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