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FOOTBALL: Jackets geared up for rivalry matchup at Dalton

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A lot has changed since Calhoun and Dalton met on the football field for the first time in 1925.

The game of football overall has changed, the participants, coaches and fans have certainly changed and both schools have changed dramatically. But one thing has stayed the same in the almost 90 years since they first teed it up — the importance of winning the contest between the two northwest Georgia neighbors.

The Jackets will visit the Catamounts on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Harmon Field at Bill Chappell Stadium for the 44th all-time meeting between the teams.

Calhoun coach Hal Lamb said he realizes what this rivalry game entails for both sides.

“This goes back a long time before I got here, but I understand what it’s about and what it means to this area,” said Lamb, who is entering his 16th season at the helm for the Jackets. “I think the really great thing about it is that it’s a good, clean rivalry. We have a lot of respect for them, and they have a lot of respect for us.

“I think coach (Matt) Land does a tremendous job there, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Dalton leads the all-time series 34-8-1, but it’s been the Jackets who’ve controlled it more recently, winning the last five and six of the last seven.

The game will be the season opener for Calhoun, whereas the Catamounts opened up the schedule this past Friday with a 41-21 victory at Scottsboro (Ala.).

Lamb said the trip will show where his team is as they face the stiff challenge on the road.

“It’s going to be a very big test,” said Lamb. “I think this is one of the best teams they’ve had in a while at Dalton. So it’s going to be a big challenge to go up there on their home turf and try to get a win.”

While it won’t be ideal on the road in a hostile environment, the game will be the first regular-season start for Calhoun quarterback Kaelan Riley, who took over the full-time job under center this past offseason after seeing some playing time in 2013. Riley had a nice night in the Jackets’ preseason scrimmage against Rome a couple weeks ago, throwing for three touchdowns.

The junior will lean on a big and talented offensive line as well as a deep group of skill players around him that allow him to not have to do too much.

Lamb said having the week off between the preseason scrimmage against Rome and the season opener was a big positive.

“It was a good week for us,” said Lamb. “We went ahead and started preparing some for Dalton. We had to take several precautions because of the heat, but I think we still got a lot done.

“I just think the kids are excited about getting to game week. We’re ready to tee it up and see what happens.”

Dalton will be without one of their biggest playmakers as senior running back Kelvis Rhodes serve the second game of a two-game suspension after an arrest in early August.

Still, the Catamounts have a productive offense, led by quarterback Payton Veraldi, who passed for two touchdowns in the win over Scottsboro.

Lamb said holding down Dalton’s offense is extremely important on Friday.

“We’ve got to contain their offense,” said Lamb. “They are very good. They quarterback is much improved, and they have a really good tight end also. We’ve got to contain those guys.

“And we can’t turn the ball over. That’s the same every week, but we really can’t afford to do it against these guys on the road.”