Editor's note: This story is featured in the Daily Citizen-News' weekly high school football Touchdown! section. Grab an issue in papers on Fridays during football season, or stop by our office for a copy.
Conditions might not be as bitterly cold as they were in Dalton on Nov. 5, 1976, when Dalton High School defeated Northwest Whitfield in the first meeting between the two schools on the gridiron -- yet the tension might be just as hot tonight at Harmon Field as Dalton hosts the Bruins for another chapter in the book of rivalries.
Most years since that first meeting, the schools have faced each other. With the game at 7:30 p.m., both teams are looking for a 2-0 start to the season. Each team has yet to play a region game.
As far as that first meeting went, Dalton escaped with a 13-6 victory -- its closest win over a region opponent that season -- and subsequently claimed the region title. The Catamounts went on to lose in the state semifinals, but that final regular-season game of the year was one to remember.
"It was surprisingly cold -- bitter," said Waymond McDade, who finished as Dalton's leading rusher with 108 yards on 20 carries. "I guess when your body doesn't feel right, you remember it. Everything felt more painful. I had no feeling. I couldn't feel the ball when it was put in my hands."
McDade remembers it being so cold that it affected the game numerous times. The Catamounts had a whopping seven lost fumbles.
Northwest cornerback Eddie Brooker claimed Dalton's fourth lost fumble, by back John Moore, giving the Bruins great field position still in the first half of play.
"It was crazy to do something like that in any game, but knowing what was on the line meant everything," Brooker said. "I don't even know if John knew he was getting the pitch. I saw it happening and I could have caught it in the air if I was a little bit faster. It all just happened so fast that I hit him at the same time to cause the fumble, and I just fell on it."
After the turnover, Northwest's Kent Pettyjohn had a rushing touchdown to give the Bruins a surprising lead at halftime, 6-0.
Brooker remembers how monumental the occasion was, knowing his team was not the favorite to win.
"When we got off the bus, we saw them on the other side with all these people lined up," Brooker said. "Their band was there playing and we didn't even have our parents there barely. It looked like we were playing Alabama State or someone like that.
"We knew all the hype and they were very good -- loaded. But we were hyped up, too, and wanted to compete. You don't recover a fumble in a bigger game than that. I was freaking out. It was a big deal for us."
There was no shortage of whirlwind plays in the second half, either, as Dalton rallied for the win.
McDade was aiding the Catamounts on a drive downfield when he was hit again with a tackle by the determined Bruins defense. As described in the Daily Citizen-News' article on the game, "A bizarre fourth-down-and-one play found McDade driving up the middle and hit by a vicious tackle. The pigskin popped up into the air, and fullback Moore claimed it."
Moore was just a short distance from the end zone, or as McDade remembers, he was in the end zone. Either way, Dalton took the lead with the ensuing extra point, 7-6.
"I was hit, and somehow or another I spun around and I was facing backward," McDade said. "The ball just went out of my hands and luckily Moore was there to catch it.
"It was definitely something I will never forget. It will forever be in my mind."
Dalton's quarterback, Dana Biddle, now deceased, scored again with less than a minute remaining in the game on a 50-yard breakaway run to seal the win for the Catamounts, cementing in history the first game in the Northwest-Dalton rivalry.
These days, the schools don't share a region or even the same classification. Yet, the rivalry still lives on.
"It is still a rivalry from those days, but a lot of that is instilled in the kids from their parents," said Brooker, now the dealer principal and owner of Dalton's North Georgia Toyota. "It may not be as intense, and at the time when it did mean something the region didn't have anything to do with that. I knew what was on the line -- it was a big event and one I'll never forget."
McDade, who is a truck driver and an associate minister at Shiloh Baptist Church in Dalton, agreed.
"It really was a rivalry. You weren't not only playing for a spot in the playoffs, but you ran into these guys everywhere you went," he said. "It was all about bragging rights. We just happened to come out on top that year.
"Being in the same county and city you have to live with going a whole year to the next time you meet. For those playing tonight, I would tell them the same thing we were told. Go out and give it 110% because that way when you get off the field, you've done your best and didn't leave anything out there. No matter what the score is, you will be satisfied."
Gordon Central (0-1, 0-0 in Region 7-2A) at Christian Heritage (1-0, 0-0 in Region 6-A), 7:30 p.m.
Christian Heritage has its first home game of the season tonight as it hosts Gordon Central.
The Lions are coming off a solid start to the year after winning their opening game against Riverside Military Academy, 27-6. Sophomore running back Gage Leonard led the offense with three rushing touchdowns. He finished the night with 234 yards on 27 carries. Senior kicker Joe Dixon made two field goals of 39 and 45 yards.
Gordon Central dropped its first game of the season to Haralson County, 28-10.
Last meeting: Christian Heritage won in 2018, 28-0.
North Murray (0-0, 0-0 in Region 6-3A) at Rabun County (1-0, 0-0 in Region 8-2A), 7:30 p.m.
After starting the season with a bye, North Murray plays its first game of the year tonight at Rabun County.
The Mountaineers are set to face a top athlete in Rabun County's sophomore quarterback Gunner Stockton. The 6-1, 209-pounder was named Freshman of the Year last season by MaxPreps and holds scholarship offers from Georgia, Alabama, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State and Penn State, among numerous others.
Last meeting: Rabun County won in 2018, 52-42.