PHOTOS BY LISA McGINTY | LMc Photography
Bulldogs get pumped to take the field.
Brady Hignight gets the pass blocked by a defender.
Dalton’s Greyson Siders literally runs over the pile.
Encouragement during a timeout with Coach Broc Dial.
Grant Johnson is consoled by a coach.
Players console each other after the game.
Quentin and Grayson Lehman with the tackle.
By ROBERT McCUNE
The Dalton Bulldogs finally met their post-season match against the undefeated Kirtland Hornets in Saturday’s Division VI, Region 21 semifinal at Nordonia’s Boliatz Stadium.
After cruising to victories in the first two rounds of the playoffs – against Jackson-Milton’s Bluejays and then Brookfield’s Warriors – Dalton’s varsity football team hit a wall in round three.
The Hornets beat the Bulldogs in a 33-0 blowout in which they racked up 408 total yards on offense, compared to Dalton’s 158.
At 12-0, the game was still within reach for the Bulldogs at halftime. Then Kirtland scored 21 unanswered points in the third quarter, moving the ball 180 yards on offense and shutting Dalton down defensively. Dalton’s best chance of getting on the scoreboard came in the closing minutes of the first half, when a fourth-down pass to Cade Mullet in the endzone – close enough to warrant an instant replay or challenge on primetime – was ruled incomplete.
With the loss, the Bulldogs’ season comes to an end, while Kirtland advances to the finals for the 13th-straight year – a new state record. The Hornets face the Mogadore Wildcats, who beat their semifinal opponent Cuyahoga Heights 41-10.
It was a difficult closing chapter to an otherwise stellar season for the Bulldogs, who played 13 weeks of high school football to earn the right to play at the top echelon of the Ohio High School Athletic Association. Dalton finished 10-3 on the season and 6-1 in the Wayne County Athletic League, which secured the team its second-straight and 28th league title.
More good news: The Bulldogs look to retain a lot of strength in their starting line for the 2023-24 football season.
Dalton graduates five seniors on its squad – backup quarterback Ethan Stutz, wide receiver and linebacker Bryce Johnson, and tackles Grant Johnson, Quentin Lehman and Jaden Sok.
On the season, Stutz was 4-of-5 on passing completions and rushed for 258 yards and four touchdowns; and Grant Johnson led the team in tackles.
Dalton’s seniors and returning superstars for next season include running back Greyson Siders, quarterback Colin Pearson and wide receiver Cade Mullet. Siders alone moved the ball more than 1,800 yards on offense – 1,255 rushing and 549 receiving – for 25 touchdowns. Doing the math, not counting PATs, Siders scored 150 points for the Bulldogs in his junior year. Behind center, Pearson completed 120 of 194 passing attempts for 1,690 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season, and rushed for another 177 yards and four TDs. Mullet caught the ball 31 times for 384 yards and five touchdowns, and punched it into the end zone for two more scores on 94 yards rushing. Dalton also should get two more seasons from running back Sammy Tomlinson, who as a sophomore racked up 1,216 total yards on offense for 12 touchdowns. Also returning next season, wide receiver Brady Hignight caught 31 passes for 384 yards and one touchdown, and returned the ball 2,220 total yards on kickoffs as a sophomore.
The first real look at the strength of next season’s Dalton Bulldogs will come in a Week 1 rematch against Kirtland.
Jason Boyer contributed to this report with live updates from the game.