College Football: Catawba linebacker Dennis McFatten
SALISBURY — After the opening kickoff, Livingstone’s offense trotted onto the field to get Saturday’s Mayor’s Cup Game under way.
Catawba outside linebacker Dennis McFatten III held up three fingers, and inside backer Jason Taylor and free safety L.J. McCray responded with the same gesture.
“The three fingers — that’s the defense’s motto,” McFatten explained. “Three fingers for three-and-out. We want to stop them in three plays, so we’re asking who wants to be the one who makes those plays. We’ve built a lot of motivation with those three fingers.”
Livingstone has a high-powered passing game, but facing Catawba’s 3-4 defense, the Blue Bears’ Plan ‘A’ was to use the run to set up the pass.
Inside inebacker Ed Robinson stopped the first-down run for a short gain. On second down, defensive end Damien Lee stifled another run at the line of scrimmage. On third-and-long, Livingstone QB Drew Powell threw incomplete, and the Blue Bears had to punt.
“The mindset that we have is that no offense deserves to be on the field more than three plays, whether it’s on our field or theirs,” McCray said. “As a whole defense on Saturday, we stopped the run and we executed. It was a good evaluation game for us, and we did what we were supposed to do.”
That’s why there were lots of three-and-outs at Livingstone’s Alumni Stadium.
Livingstone has no shortage of skill-position talent, but the Blue Bears’ first nine possessions against Catawba’s defense ended with seven punts, a fourth-down stop and a turnover. Livingstone managed the occasional first down, but no points, as Catawba built a 42-0 lead on the way to a 42-16 victory.
Even when a sensational, 37-yard catch by LC’s Anthony Holland led to first-and-goal at the Catawba 5 late in the third quarter, McFatten stuffed the first-down run at the 4. One incompletion and one sack later, the Blue Bears settled for a field goal just to get on the board.
McFatten, a 22-year-old senior, is not a household name. He’s been a valuable reserve for three seasons and came into 2013 with 20 career tackles.
But he’s an extremely important player this year because Catawba’s senior class is very small. Not counting the transfers (quarterback Danny O’Brien and receiver Quan Rucker), the Indians have just eight seniors. All eight play.
McFatten is listed at 220, but even at a rangy 6-foot-2, he looks lighter than that. Fortunately, he is fast and smart.
“He has knowledge, he has experience, he comes to work every day, and he gets after it,” Catawba coach Curtis Walker said. “He’s very old school. I’m pleased with the maturity he’s showing, and I think he’s a great leader for our young linebackers. He shows them the right way to do things.”
As far as mentoring the youngster, McFatten says he’s just doing what linebackers such as Jeb Bass, Julian Samolu, Lakeem Perry and Cory Johnson once did for him.
“I had guys to show me the ropes when I came in here,” McFatten said. “Bass knew that defensive playbook like some people know the Bible.
McFatten is part of a growing Florida presence on the roster. Three Catawba defensive starters are from the Sunshine State. Besides McFatten, there’s sophomore nose Jonathan Jean and Robinson, a sophomore linebacker.
McFatten is a product of a law-enforcement/coaching family. He played at Lake Weir High in Ocala, in central Florida, about 70 miles north of Disney World. Besides being a prep football standout, he was a good trackman in the sprints and hurdles.
And now he’s getting his chance to shine for the Indians (2-0) for the first time. He was Catawba’s defensive player of the week for the Livingstone game.
“The thing about Dennis is that he was always learning and preparing and making it his business to be ready to play even when he wasn’t getting many shots on the field,” McCray said. “Because of how hard he’s always worked, he’s very respected by the team.”
Catawba’s defense ranks second in the SAC as far as points allowed and is tied for first with six sacks.
“We have good intensity and I think we have great chemistry,” McFatten said. “It’s all about trust. We have some freshmen out there, but they’ve earned our trust. They’ve practiced hard and they know what to do.”
Catawba gets its toughest test of the young season when it plays SAC opponent Newberry (2-0)at home on Saturday night at 7.
On Newberry’s first possession, McFatten will hold up three fingers, and his teammates will answer back. Then they’ll try to get three-and-outs against the Wolves, who had great balance between the run and pass last week.
“Newberry is always a challenge, and they have tough players,” McCray said. “They don’t try to fool or you or trick you much, they just come right at you. They have a lot of confidence in their execution, but we’ll stick with our defense and see what happens.”
NOTES: O’Brien, who had 262 passing yards, most of them in the first half, was Catawba’s offensive player of the week. He was 20-for-24 for three TDs. ... Newberry registered four sacks in beating Florida Tech Saturday and Catawba hasn’t allowed a sack yet, so that will be a stat to watch. ... Special teams player of the week McCray had another special game against Livingstone. He had kickoff returns of 39 and 50 yards and made six tackles, including two sacks. ... Walker reported no major injuries from the Livingstone game. ... Walker praised backup QB Mike Sheehan, who rushed for 59 yards in six attempts and he called the ball-carrying quartet of Cary Littlejohn, David Burgess, Trey Mashore and Lorenzo Pooler, “a four-headed monster.”