Daniel Mayes: Are the Cats back? Observations from 3 weeks of high school football

Sep. 8—Are the Cats back?

It's hard to say a team that reached the second round of the Class 5A state playoffs a year ago isn't "back."

But 6-6 with a 61-0 second-round exit wouldn't exactly be the endgame goal for most Dalton High School Catamounts fans.

After languishing through back-to-back losing seasons in 2020 and 2021 — the first two since before former head coach Bill Chappell started his decades-long run in 1964 — the Catamounts might finally be returning to the winning form generations of Dalton fans grew accustomed to.

Dalton opened the season with a not-particularly-close win over North Murray. No big deal, the Cats did that last year too with the big size and numbers advantage over the Class 2A school.

It's Dalton's game last week, a 50-14 detonation of Sonoraville that wasn't as close as that score implies, that really turns heads.

Sonoraville was a Class 4A playoff team last year. Sonoraville returned senior quarterback Jaxon Pate, one of the top playmakers at that position in the northwest corner of Georgia. Sonoraville beat Dalton, 27-21, just one year ago.

None of that mattered last week.

The Phoenix didn't look like it belonged on the same Harmon Field with the Catamounts. A 43-0 halftime score was made a little less impressive with a running clock and backups on the field in the second half.

Dalton found the offensive success it did a year ago thanks largely to the contributions of Tyson Greenwade and the run game. Greenwade's gone, but Dalton still has an impressive stable of backs, led by Adriel Hernandez.

The big change? The passing game. An inconsistent attack last year has turned in a much better effort through two games. Junior quarterback Ethan Long has tossed for eight touchdowns in two games.

The defense looks improved too, with the front line swallowing Sonoraville's on most drop-backs last week. The Catamounts also held North Murray to 14 points in week one, and all the Mountaineers have done since is score 44 and 63 in two games.

Dalton still has a whole lot of challenge left in front of it, starting tonight at 7:30 with a non-region test against 2A power Rockmart and extending to one of the most difficult regions in 5A (Hiram, Calhoun and Cartersville loom).

But, through two games — the first undefeated two game start for Dalton since 2019 — the Cats look ready to claw back to their winning ways.

Creek, Northwest and North Murray are going to be just fine after departure of record-setting QBs

North Murray's Seth Griffin, Coahulla Creek's Kace Kinnamon and Northwest Whitfield's Owen Brooker each led their respective classifications in passing yards last year as a senior, and each team was tasked with replacing those departed prolific passers.

Through three weeks of games, none of the three teams can have many complaints.

North Murray's Skyler Williams currently leads all of Georgia in passing yards through three weeks of football with 910. That includes the 360 he found Judson Petty for in a week two win over Pickens alone, which set a new state record for receiving yards by one player in one game. It doesn't include the five touchdowns and 257 yards the dual-threat quarterback piled up on the ground last week against Ridgeland. Williams might be as good with his legs as he is with his arm.

Gavin Nuckolls played two nearly-flawless games in blowout wins over Pepperell and Coahulla Creek to start the season, passing for nine touchdowns and no picks between the two. The sophomore fell back to earth a little bit in a loss last week at Ringgold, but still tossed two touchdowns. He's seventh on the same state passing yards list that Williams tops with 799.

Nuckolls and Williams face off tonight at 7:30, when their two teams meet up in Tunnel Hill.

Coahulla Creek's Chase Ward has only played two games compared to the other pair's three, but early results have also been strong for the senior.

Ward threw for two touchdowns and rushed for two more against Murray County to start the season. Creek's game against Northwest unraveled in the second quarter, but Ward impressed with an early long pass that set up his own touchdown run Ward kept Creek fighting as the defensive front for the Bruins made life difficult.

Ward will look to lead a rebound with the Colts playing at Chattooga tonight at 7:30.

Murray, Southeast and Christian Heritage show promise that hasn't yet translated to many wins

For Christian Heritage, coming into a season with a new coach and just one senior on the roster — kicker Carson Russell — was bound to mean growing pains.

The Lions have found some to like, like the play of junior QB Carter Triplett, but year one under head coach Frank Barden has resulted in a yield of three lopsided losses through three games.

"We keep fighting and we're playing hard," Barden told the Daily Citizen after last week's 35-0 loss to Darlington. "Getting better is all we can do. We're in a rebuilding process; the kids are going out there to battle and I can't ask much more than that."

Christian Heritage is off tonight after the slow start, as are Southeast Whitfield and Murray County.

Southeast is just a couple of plays away from 2-1. The Raiders showed guts in rallying from a 21-0 hole in the opening game against Coosa to take a lead, but Coosa scored again to take it back. Southeast won on a late field goal by Denis Estrada over Gordon Central in week two before falling to Gordon Lee last week.

Signs of progress are present at Murray too after an 1-9 season last year. The 0-3 Indians scored 25 points in a week two loss to Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe. The Indians totaled just 34 points through the first nine games of last season.

Daniel Mayes is the sports editor of the Dalton Daily Citizen. Write to him at