Loss in state title game doesn’t diminish what Dalton football accomplished

Loss in state title game doesn’t diminish what Dalton football accomplished

Despite losing 38-0 to Marion Local in the Division VII state championship game on Dec. 2 in Canton, the 2023 football season was one to remember for Dalton High School, as the Bulldogs finished 13-2 and made it farther than any team in school history.


The 2023 Dalton football team raised the bar for the program to a never-before-seen level.

That’s really saying a lot considering the school’s had football since 1924 and its 23 Wayne County Athletic League titles are easily the most in conference history.

The Bulldogs advanced to a state championship game for the first time in school history, where they were blanked 38-0 by Maria Stein Marion Local in the Division VII final in front of 6,331 fans at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton on Dec. 2.

The Flyers (16-0) won their 48th straight game, third straight title and extended their state record with their 14th overall championship since 2000.

Dalton ended the season with a 13-2 record. Its only losses were to state champs Marion Local and Div. VI winner Kirtland, 14-7, in the season opener.

“These seniors did a really great job this year,” said seventh-year Dalton coach Broc Dial, whose team joined 2002 Smithville and 2011 champion Norwayne as the only WCAL schools to play in a state football final. “I’m really proud of them, and they really set the bar high for our football program.

“Like I told them, everybody’s gonna be chasing them moving forward, whether it’s the football team or our other sports teams.”

Marion Local was the clear favorite entering the title game, but most people were expecting a closer final. Dalton had stayed close with Kirtland in its opener and had run roughshod through the playoffs, including a 55-7 win over Caldwell in the state semifinals.

Include Marion Local coach Tim Goodwin among those who were surprised with how quickly the Flyers put the game away.

“This game didn’t exactly play out how I thought it would,” Goodwin said. “We respected Dalton, and we thought this was going to be a tough game.

“I think the pick-6 and the punt return were the backbreakers. Griff (Bruns) made a great read on the interception. Those two plays kind of overshadowed the game.”

Despite trailing 14-0 at the end of one quarter, the Bulldogs were in a good position to make it a competitive game late in the second period when they drove deep into Marion Local territory.

However, Bruns stepped in front of Colin Pearson’s pass and returned an interception 80 yards for a touchdown with 4:29 left in the first half.

Marion Local delivered the knockout blow after Dalton’s next possession when junior Victor Hoelscher returned Will Carmichael’s punt 64 yards for a score and a 28-0 lead.

The Flyers juniors turned in the longest interception and punt returns, respectively, in Div. VII title game history.

Although there was a running clock throughout the second half, Dalton continued to fight until the end.

Junior safety Brady Hignight came up with an interception despite playing with a broken arm wrapped in a cast. Junior tackle Matthew Heatwole returned to action after his face was bloodied. And, senior two-way lineman Collin Jones, who suffered a badly sprained ankle, needed help walking after the game from fellow captains Greyson Siders and Grayson Lehman.

“At halftime, we did have our heads down a little bit, but we tried to keep everybody’s heads up,” Siders said. “We didn’t care what the scoreboard was coming into that second half.

“We just knew that we had one half left with this team, and we really cherished it. We went out and played as hard as we possibly could.”

Marion Local, which incredibly started only two seniors on offense, worked for a 321-177 edge on total yards. Add in the two record-setting returns and it just wasn’t Dalton’s day.

“Marion Local is a very good football team, and they played very well,” Dial said. “This came down to mistakes, and you just can’t make mistakes when you play a team in this situation.”

Dalton’s powerful rushing attack was limited to just 109 yards on 34 carries, while Marion Local moved the ball on the ground for 202 yards on 27 attempts.

Siders, who was named Div. VII Offensive Player of the Year, was limited to 11 carries for 41 yards. Junior Sammy Tomlinson led the Bulldogs with 46 yards on six carries, helped by a 25-yard scamper.

Senior quarterback Pearson was 7 for 13 passing for 68 yards while adding 12 carries for 19 yards.

While the loss will always sting, seniors Lehman, Siders, Cade Mullet and Pearson were already able to appreciate what they’d accomplished as they spoke in the postgame press conference.

“We had the whole little village of Dalton behind us,” Pearson said. “It was definitely cool and something I’ll remember forever.”

Mullet added, “Knowing what my last game was is a real privilege. A lot of kids don’t get to play here.”

Fifteen Dalton seniors played their final high school games at Tom Benson Stadium: Siders, Lehman, Mullet and Jones were first-team All-Ohioans, while the rest of the senior class consisted of Kade Miller, Pearson, Seth Wyckoff, Jace Eberly, Justin Jager, Jarrett Hofstetter, Gavin Annen, Carmichael, Talan Greegor, Matthew VonBonin and Cy Conrad.

Siders finished the season with 186 carries for 1,916 yards and 29 TDs, while Tomlinson went for 980 yards and 18 TDs on 117 attempts.

Pearson was 113 for 179 passing for 1,772 yards, 18 TDs and six interceptions.

Mulley had eight interceptions and caught 21 passes for 369 yards and two scores. Second-team All-Ohio junior Alex Hess and Annen were the leading tacklers with 87.5 and 85 stops, respectively.

“The seniors have been tremendous,” Dial said. “We’ve definitely seen a lot of growth throughout the entire year — just taking the next step and becoming young men.

“I love each and every one of them. I know we had some that played more than others, but they all contributed to our team’s success. They’re just great, great young men, and they’re going to do great things in life.”

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