PHOTOS BY LISA McGINTY | LMc Photography
Brothers Grayson and Quentin Lehman clear the way for Dalton to advance the ball Friday against Smithville.
By ZACH McFARREN | DGKN sports writer
SMITHVILLE It’s not that Dalton’s football team gets off to slow starts. Instead, it’s almost as if they take the first quarter to feel out their opponent, to establish a defensive presence, and then to take advantage of weaknesses they find in the team on the other side of the ball.
Friday night in Smithville, that all changed.
After a quarter of play, the Bulldogs found themselves leading 20-0, having scored through the air, by way of the run, and with electric special teams play. There would be no nailbiter finish to this contest, as Dalton cruised to 40-7 victory over the Smithies.
Dalton would strike less than three minutes into the game when quarterback Ethan Stutz hit Tate Geiser in stride down the middle of the field. 46 yards later, Geiser (2 catches, 62 yards, 6 carries, 24 yards) and the Dawgs were rolling. Two minutes later, sophomore defensive back Cade Mullet would hand the offense the ball again when he intercepted a Smithville pass. Mullet’s second INT of the season gave Dalton a short field, and from there, it was the Jaden Schlabach show. Sprinting around the left side, Schlabach ate up 40 yards, then finished off the drive when he dove past the pylon to give Dalton a 13-0 lead with nearly half of the opening quarter yet to be played.
On their next possession, Smithville was forced to punt. Taking the kick off the bounce, senior Jaiden Malone went right, made a few moves, and then accelerated past the Smithville coverage team.
The 69 yard TD return extended the lead to 20-0, bringing the quarter to close, and putting to rest any thought of a Smithie upset.
The first Bulldog possession of the second quarter started on their own 20 yard line. Once again, it would take them under three minutes to cover 80 yards and add to their advantage. This time, the damage was done on the ground. Stutz and senior Owen Beatty did the heavy work, with gains of 25 and 40 yards, respectively. Schlabach added his second TD of the game when he plunged in from a yard out.
Following an errant Smithville punt, Stutz (12 of 14, 188 yards, 2 TD) dropped a pass perfectly over Beatty’s shoulder. With a great effort, Beatty (4 receptions. 61 yards, 1 TD) dove for the end zone and the 33 yard connection pushed the Dalton lead to 33-0 as the two teams retreated to their locker rooms at half.
A commanding lead can be a dangerous thing. If you get comfortable, you may just let the other team sneak back into the game. Coach Broc Dial was pleased with his team’s response to what could have been a false sense of security.
“Our focus, execution, and play making were consistent,” Dial said after the game. “We always want to focus on the process, not the result. I thought our players did a lot of good things tonight.”
Those good things would continue into the second half. A running clock limited the possessions of both teams, but Dalton took advantage of their opportunities. The final Bulldog score of the evening came after a sustained 85 yard drive. Schlabach (11 rushes, 71 yards, 3 TD) would finish his night as he scored again from a yard out. A late fourth quarter Smithie touchdown would make the score 40-7.
Despite the late drive and score, Smithville could only muster 128 total yards against a stingy Dalton defensive. Meanwhile, Dalton racked up 357 yards. Add to that a constant threat of special teams, and Dalton is complete in all phases of the game.
For Dial and his squad, the process looks good. The results speak for themselves. And with the focus and execution that Dalton brings week in and week out, this is setting up for a fun finish to the year.