Dalton fulfills goal of reaching title game

Dalton fulfills goal of reaching title game

Dalton’s Coy Wenger (1) and the rest of the Bulldogs reached the Div. VII state championship game.


A few thoughts from the week in sports …

The ride of a lifetime for the 13-1 Dalton football team has one final stop: the Division VII state championship game against top-ranked Marion Local (15-0) at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton on Saturday.

Seventh-year Dalton coach Broc Dial used one word to describe how his team became the first in school history and just the fourth in Wayne County to reach a title game: “Expectations.”

“We’ve had teams in the regional finals twice before this — in 2017 and 2021 — and it raised the expectations for the program,” Dial said. “The kids have really embraced that.

“Our community has always been really good about backing our football program. We’ve had some really good teams in the past, two coaches in the (Ohio High School Football Coaches Association and Wayne County Sports) Hall of Fame (Billie J. McFarren and Bob Ramsay). We reported (to training camp) this year to make a run and be in this position.”

Dalton joins Orrville (1983, 1985, 1994, 1998, 2018), Norwayne (2011) and Smithville (2002) as the only Wayne County schools to play for a state football title. The Red Riders’ 1998 and 2018 teams and the 2011 Bobcats won championships.

For a mid-sized or small public school to reach a state championship game, it takes several factors working together. Obviously, a team needs a great deal of talent and chemistry, along with good coaches and good health.

A little bit of luck also can go a long way — on and off the field, a bounce of the football here or a fortuitous enrollment count there. There have been some pretty good Wayne County teams that had the misfortune of having a state powerhouse in their region or a private school loaded with Div. I college recruits.

Dalton got a break last May when the OHSAA announced the Bulldogs would drop to Div. VII and away from Div. VI regional juggernaut Kirtland.

As soon as the 2023 regional assignments were released, many of us who follow high school football closely commented that a Dalton team loaded with returnees could make a serious run to the state title game.

That’s exactly what happened. The Bulldogs have won 13 straight after a season-opening, 14-7 loss to the aforementioned Hornets (14-1), who will meet Versailles (13-2) in the Div. VI title game on Friday at 10:30 a.m.

Dalton caught the attention last year of Marion Local coach Tim Goodwin, whose Flyers will enter the title game with 47 straight wins, back-to-back titles and shooting for a record 14th championship.

“Dalton moved the ball more against Kirtland (in a 33-0 playoff loss) last year than anyone else we had on film,” Goodwin said. “Then they had a strong opener against Kirtland in a 14-7 game and were throwing the ball on them. They have good kids doing some high-level stuff, so it’s gonna be a challenge.”

Dalton will certainly be a big underdog against the Flyers, but the Bulldogs’ depth is the biggest reason for optimism. Following Dalton this season, it’s been really impressive to see how many playmakers they have on both sides of the ball and the team-first attitude.

Senior running back Greyson Siders was the Div. VII Associated Press Northeast Inland District Offensive Player of the Year and led the Dalton offense into the title game. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound player had 1,875 yards rushing and 29 TDs on 111 carries while also catching 17 passes for 217 yards and two scores.

Fellow first-team all-district running back Sammy Tomlinson carried the ball 111 times for 934 yards and 18 TDs, including three scores in a 55-7 rout of Caldwell in the state semifinals.

Quarterback Colin Pearson was 106 for 166 passing for 1,734 yards, 18 TDs and just five interceptions while carrying the ball 56 times for 240 yards and one score. Brady Hignight led a balanced receiving corps with 28 catches for 428 yards and three TDs.

Jaxon Ryder, Coy Wenger and Cade Mullet also have stepped up at times as playmakers.

“We’ve been fortunate to have some good talent, a lot of kids that can handle the ball and do things with it,” Dial said. “That’s something we try to do every year and really develop.”

Grayson Lehman (6-foot-4, 285) and Collin Jones (6-0, 225) are senior two-way starters who provide leadership and muscle up front while junior linebacker Alex Hess (team-high 82 tackles) and senior defensive back Mullet (eight interceptions) also earned first-team all-district honors.

Dial and his coaching staff also deserve a lot of credit for molding talented teams year after year. The Bulldogs’ 39-year-old head coach has a 69-17 record at the helm, good for an outstanding .802 winning percentage. Dial appreciates reaching this milestone as much as any coach after growing up accompanying his dad, the late Gary Dial, to championship games as a kid.

“Personally, it’s a great opportunity,” Dial said. “My dad was a longtime assistant and had been a head football coach for seven years. He was in the finals a couple times as an assistant coach.

“I remember going back and forth every year between Massillon and Fawcett Stadium when they rotated the championship games. I have great memories of going to a lot of those games with my dad in the past.”

For coaches and players alike on Dalton’s team, even when they’re much older, they’ll still be remembered for being part of a state finals team. It will, of course, be infinitely sweeter if the Bulldogs can pull off the upset and call themselves champions.

“The key for us is just to handle the week and handle what we need to do to be successful,” Dial said. “(Marion Local’s tradition and status as the favorite) are things that we can’t control. We need to focus on what we can control, which is preparing and playing our best on Saturday.”

Parting shots

There have been a lot of great weekends for the Ohio State and Cleveland Browns football teams. Last weekend was one of the worst.

The Buckeyes’ 30-24 loss at Michigan really hurt, but I don’t think coach Ryan Day should be fired. Day is still 56-7, even though three of those losses are against the Wolverines. The grass isn’t always greener. I’d vote to give Day one more year — a last chance for him to realize he needs to coach more creatively in “The Game.”

—The Browns were beat up on the scoreboard and on the field in a 29-12 beatdown in Denver while suffering another rash of key injuries. The FOX TV cameras kept showing newly acquired quarterback Joe Flacco watching on the sidelines in street clothes. I kept wondering if Flacco thought, “Why did I come back?”

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