College Football: Catawba 25, Carson-Newman 22

Catawba's  Danny O'Brien #7 flips a pass to Vincent Beam #85.  photo by Wayne Hinshaw, for the Salisbury Post
Catawba's Danny O'Brien #7 flips a pass to Vincent Beam #85. photo by Wayne Hinshaw, for the Salisbury Post

JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. — Catawba won its biggest football game in a half-dozen years on Saturday, upsetting No. 10 Carson-Newman 25-22 on the road.

The victory was unexpected, to say the least, after Catawba (3-1, 1-1) was thumped 27-0 at home by Newberry a week ago.


“We didn’t play well against Newberry, but the players and the staff were determined that one loss was not going to equal two,” Catawba head coach Curtis Walker explained. “Starting Monday night we went to work on Carson-Newman, and we came back down the mountain today as winners.”

Catawba hasn’t done that often. This was just the third time — 1987 and 2007 were the others — that Catawba has been able to beat one of Division II’s top programs on the road.

Catawba was out-rushed 232-20, lost the turnover battle 4-0 and didn’t have injured punter/placekicker Chad Hollandsworth, factors that made the win more remarkable.

“Our backs were to the wall many times, offensively and defensively,” Walker said. “But our young men were determined to take care of business today.”

Catawba quarterback Danny O’Brien threw for 444 yards in the third-best passing performancesin school history. Linebacker Jason Taylor made 16 tackles to lead an inspired defensive effort. Freshman Carlos Tarrats made two TD catches, including the decisive one with 56 seconds left.

Buddy Poole, voice of the Catawba Indians, was at home listening on the radio as he recovers from heart surgery, and that may have been a good thing. He might have jumped right out of the broadcast booth had he been in Jefferson City. Walker and Carson-Newman coach Ken Sparks both spoke prior to the game about how much Poole means to Catawba and SAC football, and the Catawba players did their best to hasten Poole’s recovery.

It started badly for the Indians. Carson-Newman scored a TD barely two minutes into the game, and after a Catawba fumble on the ensuing kickoff, the Eagles were quickly knocking on the door again.

Only this time the Indians didn’t break. Safety Mark McDaniel made the stop on third-and-goal from the 4, On fourth-and-goal from the 2, freshman linebacker Jalen Forrest brought down Andy Hibbett at the 1-yard line. That tackle kept the Indians in the game.

Catawba cut its deficit to 7-6 when O’Brien’s 13-yard scoring pass to Tarrats capped an 11-play, 60-yard scoring drive.

When O’Brien scored on the ground early in the second quarter and Troy Mitchell kicked the PAT, Catawba led 13-7.

Carson-Newman kicker Curt Duncan accounted for the next nine points with field goals. His third one gave the Eagles (3-1, 1-1) a 16-13 lead heading to the fourth quarter.

Carson-Newman came into the game averaging 357 rushing yards. It had 232 against Catawba, including 113 by Tyron Douglas.

“Our defensive coordinator Keith Henry (the hero of Catawba’s 1987 win against Carson-Newman), had a great plan, and we executed,” Walker said. “Guys read their keys and we hit them hard. You have to deal with four things — dive, quarterback keep, pitchman and passing game — when you play Carson-Newman. It’s an offense you’re not going to stop, but we did our best today to minimize it. They ran the ball at us 52 times to get those 232 yards. We limited them to field goals several times. Jason Taylor, L.J. McCray (12 tackles, three pass breakups), Jacob Hanes (10 tackles) — we had a lot of young men that played a tremendous game.”

Catawba’s offense got things done when it had to.

A great punt by Mitchell helped pin Carson-Newman deep in its territory, and Terence Williams returned a Carson-Newman punt to the C-N 36. O’Brien hit Quan Rucker with a 29-yard pass to the C-N 7, and David Burgess got the touchdown from there. Burgess’ TD put the Indians ahead 19-16 with 4:21 left to play.

Carson-Newman answered immediately with TraShaun Ward’s 81-yard kickoff return to the Catawba 12. Carson-Newman punched in a go-ahead TD in four plays and led 22-19 with 2:34 left.

O’Brien was required to create some magic then. With the Indians facing fourth-and-10 at their 12-yard line and defeat just an incompletion away, he passed to Bruce Smith for an 18-yard gain.

A completion to Nate Charest and a 45-yarder to Tyler Hamilton hurried the ball to the Carson-Newman 12. A hold and a sack pushed Catawba back to the 34, but Tarrats beat a safety over the top, and O’Brien hit him for the decisive touchdown with 56 seconds left. The PAT was blocked, but Catawba led 25-22.

Carson-Newman moved into field-goal range in the final minute, but Duncan’s 33-yard attempt to force overtime was wide left — and Catawba had a stunning victory.

Walker was suffering from cramps on the way back to Salisbury last night, but he did his best to enjoy an astounding win.

His first SAC victory is one he’ll never forget. Potentially, it’s a season-changer and a program-changer.

“Give all the credit to the coaching staff and to these young men,” Walker said. “They wouldn’t stop fighting today. They fought and they fought.”

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