However, the Cass football team still did not finish the game with a clean sheet against visiting Dalton, and one first-half drive in particular may have loomed large in the Colonels’ 30-17 defeat, the second straight for the Bartow County squad.
“They [Catamounts] do a good job of controlling the football and they’re a good football team, but the whole thing just comes [down] to turnovers,” Cass coach Rick Casko said. “If we’re able to get in earlier, in the end zone, the whole shape of the game changes.”
The Colonels, trailing by 11 to start the second half, began the third quarter just as it did the first — with a long drive. Taking the ball from its own 25-yard line, Cass’ Kelin Wells ran 11 yards on a jet sweep and Colin Rogers later picked up 2 yards on a third-down run for a first down just shy of midfield.
A defensive holding call on Dalton placed the ball across the 50, but a pair of 8-yard runs and two penalties in five plays had the Colonels facing third-and-16 from the Catamounts’ 40.
Cass’ coaching staff dialed up the right play, though, as receiver Chris Morton caught a screen and headed to the middle of the field. Morton gained what he could there, utilizing great blocking before darting back to the right side of the field and outrunning the Dalton secondary.
Just like that, the Colonels were back in the game, a point cemented after Rokins bulled his way into the end zone on a two-point conversion, which made things 20-17 with 7:14 in the third.
The Catamounts quickly stretched the lead back to double digits on their opening drive of the second half. Eder Mora’s 10-yard run got the ball to the Dalton 45, and Kelvis Rhodes’ 48-yard run may have been longer if not for a touchdown-saving, shoestring tackle by Cass’ Justin Reed.
Despite the great effort from Reed, with the ball at the 7 the Catamounts needed just two plays to push the lead to 27-17, as Rhodes scored on his third toss sweep, this one a 4-yarder.
Cass’ next possession lasted close to two minutes, but the 12-play drive ended with a missed field goal.
Dalton embarked on a similarly long drive that bridge the third and fourth quarters. The Colonels halted the visitors’ momentum by busting up a play in the backfield and forcing Catamount quarterback Payton Veraldi to fumble before he could pitch on the option play. Jordan “Boo” Reed recovered the ball for Cass at its own 28.
The Colonels were unable to matriculate the ball downfield as their possession ended with an interception by Mora at the Dalton 47. The Catamounts’ ensuing possession ended with an 18-yard field goal from Kiko Rodriquez, the final points of the game.
As Casko headed to the locker room afterward, he noted that despite a valiant effort from his kids, the game ultimately came down to Cass’ inability to keep from handing the ball over to its opponent.
“[Our] kids played hard. They have a good football team,” the Colonel head coach said. “The whole game, [the] outcome, is different if we can score in the red zone. Like I said, we just can’t turn the football over. That’s all. You gotta protect the football.”
Looking to avoid the kind of start that befell them a week earlier, the Colonels’ opening drive of the game included a pair of 10-plus yard runs by Chaz Rokins to get into Dalton territory.
After Trevor Lowe’s 13-yard pass to Colin Rogers moved the ball to the Catamount 30, Cass’ drive stalled at the 28 and the hosts settled for an impressive 45-yard field goal from junior kicker Pablo Delores with 1:36 left in the first quarter.
Unfortunately for the Colonels, it was their only offensive score of the first half.
Following the game’s first points, Dalton’s star running back Kelvis Rhodes turned a Jase Chastain screen pass into a 70-yard jaunt through the middle of the field to turn the scoreboard in the Catamounts’ favor, 7-3, early in the second quarter.
Set to respond in kind to Dalton’s touchdown, the Colonels capitalized with first-down runs from Rogers, Justin Reed and Rokins, getting deep into Catamount territory. Cass, though, coughed up the ball with a fumble inside the red zone, costing it an opportunity to go back ahead.
Reed, however, momentarily made the Colonels’ miscue a moot point. The senior defensive end perfectly read the Catamounts’ offensive play on third-and-8 from the Cass 18. As Dalton’s Chastain looked to pitch the ball to a receiver on a reverse, Reed put himself in great position for a turnover, jumping in front of the ball in the backfield and coasting into the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown return on a fumble recovery.
With a two-point edge, 9-7, the Colonels’ defense returned to the field hoping to find a still-reeling Dalton offense.
After facing a first-and-15 and then a second-and-13 from their own 29, the Catamounts gave Cass a heavy dose of Rhodes, who was playing in only his second game of the season. The Dalton junior, who five carries on the drive, had a trio of first-down runs — for 14, 16 and 15 yards — with two of them featuring a juke to the inside and followed by a stiff arm to send him up the right sideline.
Rhodes’ fourth carry of the drive placed the ball on the Colonel 5, and his final run of the drive, a touchdown, came from 4 yards out on toss sweep to the left — a play the Cass defense would get to see one too many times. The 12-play drive, which took nearly four minutes, put the Catamounts ahead 13-9 with 3:08 remaining in the half.
The lead grew after the Colonels committed their second turnover of the night, also a fumble, on the ensuing drive.
Starting from Cass’ 40, Dalton turned to the air on Chastain’s 28-yard completion to Tyler Noland at the 12. Chastain’s night ended a play later as he ran for no gain and appeared to suffer a leg injury. A pause in the action allowed for the sophomore quarterback to be carted out of the stadium.
When play resumed, the Catamounts faced second-and-10 from the 12, which eventually became fourth-and-1 from the 3-yard line. A measurement from the officials showed that Mora picked up the necessary yardage for the conversion, and Rhodes had a 2-yard TD run on a toss sweep shortly after as Dalton seized control of the contest with a 20-9 halftime lead.
Casko commended his team for its marked improvement in the rushing game as well as its play on defense, despite a couple of huge gains by the Catamounts.
“I thought we ran the ball a lot better. The kids played hard, the linemen,” he said. “There’s a big play or two we gave up on defense … we couldn’t catch ’em. … The kids did a real good job. There [are] probably two bigs play in the game, you know, two long runs they got us and the one long drive. … Just a couple of key third downs [where] you gotta stop ’em.”
The Colonels (2-3) look to correct their turnover troubles next Friday, Oct. 4, at Pickens in their first sub-region “A” game following two Region 7-AAAA crossover games. Kickoff against the Dragons is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.