Nov. 17—For the second straight season, Dalton High School is traveling to Fairburn to play Creekside in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs.
Last season, Dalton took home a 61-0 season-ending defeat.
The message for head coach Kit Carpenter to this year's squad ahead of the trip to play Creekside tonight at 7:30?
This isn't 2022 any longer. The Catamounts have turned the page.
"This is a totally different team, and there were a lot of different variables that went into the game last year and how it went," Carpenter said. "This team's different. It has a different focus and a different skillset, so we're really looking forward to the opportunity."
One of those variables was that Dalton was without running back Tyson Greenwade, last year's Dalton Daily Citizen All-Area Player of the Year, in the game against Creekside.
Without a player that provided much of the offensive firepower for a team that finished 6-6 on the year, the Catamount offense sputtered.
The different skillset this season is a balanced offense that can burn defenses on the ground and through the air, combined with an improved defense.
The Catamounts hope that those improvements, which have led Dalton to an 8-3 mark this season, have narrowed the gap from last year enough to lead to a win.
Creekside, which was defeated by Warner Robins in the next round after drubbing Dalton a year ago, comes in at 10-1 on the season. The Seminoles are undefeated against the state of Georgia — the one loss came in a 62-0 defeat against nationally-ranked Mater Dei in California.
"They run the ball well and throw the ball well," Carpenter said. "They've got great skill guys and big guys up front too."
Vinson Berry is the thrower. He's passed for 1,864 yards and a stellar 32 touchdown to three interceptions ratio. Roderick McCrary is one of the runners. He leads a rushing offense that has piled up 2,978 rushing yards with 1,463 yards and 10 scores.
"It just all comes down to being fundamentally sound," Carpenter said. "It doesn't matter how big or how fast the other guy is, you've just got to get your fundamentals right and do it a whole lot faster."
Creekside is ranked No. 2 in Class 5A in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's rankings. Dalton played against then-Nos. 4, 5 and 6 in Region 7-5A alone, going 1-2 against Cartersville, Hiram and Calhoun. Calhoun ended up not making the playoffs, while the four teams in the region that did — Dalton, Cartersville, Hiram and Cass — all won last week and are still playing among the state's final 16 squads.
"It's not just the region too, because we picked up some of those other out-of-region games too to test us, like Cedartown and Rockmart," Carpenter said. "We're certainly as battle tested as we can be."
Dalton's first-round opponent Greater Atlanta Christian was ranked eighth in the state, but, after an early turnover handed GAC an early lead, Dalton locked down on defense and scored at will on the other side to cruise past the Spartans 39-17 on the road.
Running back Adriel Hernandez, the Region 7-5AA co-player of the year, ate up yards, while quarterback Ethan Long and wide receiver Bubba Tanner made big plays in the passing game.
"When you're on the road, sometimes it takes a little while to really lock in," Carpenter said. "The kids were able to stay focused and really regroup."
If Dalton pulls off the win, the Catamounts would travel next week to play the winner of a second-round game between Ware County and Warner Robins.