A question for Calhoun High School heading into the 2020 season was how the Yellow Jackets would fare against the competition of larger schools as the team moved into a higher classification.
A convincing 41-14 win over Class 6A Dalton (0-1) at Harmon Field Friday night seemed to ease that concern for the former 3A power, which moved up to Class 5A this season.
Calhoun (1-0) jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead to start, but Parker Adams' interception and quarterback Ashton Blackwell's subsequent 8-yard touchdown sprint brought the Catamounts closer to the Yellow Jackets. The 14-7 score held at the end of the first quarter, but Calhoun kept scoring.
Three second-quarter touchdowns put Dalton in an increasingly deepening hole by the halftime break.
“They showed a lot of maturity in being able to move the ball in and out around the field,” Dalton head coach Matt Land said of Calhoun.
Change-of-pace quarterback Jake Prather scored one of those touchdowns on a 3-yard run, but the other two were passes from starter Christian Lewis. Most of Lewis’ damage on the night came on quick screen passes, as the quarterback slung balls left and right to speedy skill players who picked up yards after the catch. Lewis completed 22-of-28 passes for 225 yards and two touchdowns.
This was the opening game for both teams, as schools statewide had the start of their seasons delayed due to the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 could be seen in the stands, as Harmon Field's capacity was cut in half to a maximum of 3,750 fans, and attendees wore face coverings and practiced social distancing. On the field, the actual football looked like action many have become accustomed to.
For Dalton, it was a game of answering questions as well, Land said.
“With a team this young, we had a lot of question marks coming in,” Land said. “I think we found a few, not all of them, but a few answers tonight.”
One of those answers might be Blackwell, who, in addition to his rushing score, completed 10-of-15 passes for 120 yards, including Dalton’s second-half score, a 15-yarder to Karim Page.
That play and extra point cut the Calhoun lead to 34-14, but the Yellow Jackets punctuated the victory with Jerrian Hames 1-yard touchdown plunge. The running back tallied 124 yards and two rushing touchdowns on 21 carries, also scoring on a 25-yard catch-and-run from Lewis.
The Dalton backfield didn’t produce nearly as well as Hames in the Catamounts’ first game without last-season’s All-American runner Jahmyr Gibbs, who’s now at Georgia Tech. Maurice Howard, wearing Gibbs’ No. 1 jersey, led Dalton with only six carries, putting up 30 yards as the Catamounts shifted to a more air-based attack after falling behind.
“We came into this one as a young team, and the mistakes we made were young mistakes,” Land said. “This one draws a baseline, and now we build off of this.”
After Friday’s game, Dalton won’t return to Harmon Field for a game until Oct. 16, when they’ll face Rome. The Catamounts have a game at Ridgeland next week before two straight off weeks. Then, Dalton travels to play Carrollton and South Paulding.
Calhoun is idle next week, then plays Cedartown Sept. 18.