A year after finishing 2-8, Dalton High School is in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs.
“It’s really great. These kids worked so hard for this,” said Kit Carpenter, the second-year Dalton coach. “The senior class a year ago kind of laid the foundation, and this group picked up the reins and continued on. It’s great to see all that work paid off.”
Dalton (6-5) travels tonight to Fairburn to play Creekside (9-2) at 7.
Back-to-back losing seasons for the Catamounts preceded the turnaround for Dalton, which had an opportunity going into the regular season’s final game for a region title, even with two of the top teams in the state — Calhoun and Cartersville — in Dalton’s Region 7-5A.
Dalton didn’t get that region title and had to go on the road for the first round of the playoffs, but that didn’t matter.
Dalton downed Loganville 7-3 to return to the state’s Sweet 16 for the first time since quarterback J.P. Tighe and rusher Ahmaad Tanner led the Cats to the state semifinals in 2016.
Waiting for Dalton is a red-hot Creekside team.
After starting the season 0-2, Creekside has recorded nine straight wins, leading the Seminoles to the Region 5-5A championship and to a 56-14 victory over Greater Atlanta Christian in the first round of the playoffs. Creekside’s last five games have been won by a combined score of 284-23.
Creekside made a semifinal run last season, falling to eventual 5A champ Warner Robins.
“They’re a very good team. They’ve got great size and great skill,” Carpenter said. “We can’t afford to not play our best against them. If we make a mistake, it’s going to be very costly.”
“That’s how it should be,” Carpenter said. “To go from the Sweet 16 to the Elite 8, you have to be elite, and that’s what our kids are striving to get to.”
Creekside’s offense is led by running back Roderick McCrary, who has rushed for 1,217 yards and 15 touchdowns. The Dalton defense had trouble stopping rushing attacks late in the regular season, but the Catamounts held Loganville’s Solomon Leslie, another 1,000-yard rusher, to 69 yards on 16 carries in the first round.
“For these kids to go out and be able to execute was great,” Carpenter said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys, especially on the defense, and they’ve grown up a bit late in the season.”
Dalton’s offense only managed seven points last week, but the Cats scored when it counted, as Tyson Greenwade rushed in for the winning touchdown with four minutes left. Greenwade’s 98 yards rushing against Loganville put him at 1,937 on the season, giving him the opportunity to become the first Catamount to cross 2,000 for a season since Jahmyr Gibbs, now starring at Alabama, piled up 2,554 yards in his senior season in 2019.
“You’ve got to run the ball and stop the run, certainly in the playoffs,” Carpenter said. “And that’s what we’ve got to do.”