Catawba football: Littlejohn enjoys breakout game
SALISBURY — Catawba’s team rushing record for a single game is 632 yards, an extraordinary number piled up against Newport News in 1986.
That’s a record that isn’t likely to ever be broken, but the Indians did break a different school mark for offensive production in Saturday’s 34-17 win at Brevard.
Catawba set a school mark for first downs — accumulating 34 to top the old record by one.
Seventeen of those first downs came via the air, which is no surprise. Danny O’Brien has thrown the ball efficiently every Saturday except in the soaking-wet Newberry game.
But there were also 17 first downs achieved by running the ball, and that’s progress in an area where first-year head coach Curtis Walker is determined to make progress. Balance is everything. If you can run, then you can pass.
Catawba’s backs don’t go into a game thinking about 632 rushing yards, but they do have a specific number in mind.
“The goal is always 200 rushing yards,” explained sophomore Cary Littlejohn, who had a breakout day against Brevard. “We’re a brotherhood, a family, and we don’t really care who gets the yards individually, but we do want 200 rushing yards together. Hey, if five us get 40 apiece, that’s 200.”
Catawba’s running game wasn’t a democracy Saturday. Yes, David Burgess, Lorenzo Pooler, Trey Mashore and even O’Brien, Catawba’s offensive player of the week, all chipped in, but it was Littlejohn’s 146-yard day on the ground that enabled the Indians to break the first-down record and reach its rushing goal for only the second time this season.
Catawba put up 246 rushing yards Saturday, the most since a 210-yard day against Livingstone on Sept. 14.
“It started with the offensive line,” Littlejohn said. “As a running back, we don’t make any plays unless there are holes and creases. When those holes and creases are there, that’s when you see us do our part.”
Littlejohn, 6-0, 185, has some tools. He’s a terrific athlete with exceptional quickness and 4.4 speed. As a high school senior at Polk County, on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, he placed ninth in the 200 meters in the 2A state track meet and eighth in the long jump. He played both ways in football and was a 1,500-yard rusher and one of the top players in his area.
“I was a little faster than most, but I wasn’t really recruited that heavily,” he said.
Littlejohn has pleasantly surprised his coaches this year after spending his freshman season on special teams.
“We knew he was a very good special-teams guy, but he’s really flourished carrying the ball and also catching the ball this season,” Walker said.
Littlejohn had five catches for 41 yards against Brevard, which is just one more thing for Catawba’s opponents to have to worry about.
Littlejohn scored a 3-yard touchdown to cap Catawba’s long drive to start the second half. That drive changed momentum after Brevard had scored the last 10 points of the first half to trail just 13-10.
“Our offense kept converting third downs and just stayed on the field on that first drive of the half,” Littlejohn said. “You could see their defense getting tired.”
Littlejohn’s signature play Saturday was a 31-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
“(Guard) Tim Buck pulled and hit the linebacker and there was this huge hole,” Littlejohn said. “I just cut in behind him.”
Littlejohn carried 19 times against Brevard, without a negative play.
“The offensive line said they wanted to get me in the box (end zone) some more, but I really didn’t care about that,” Littlejohn said. “I told them I just wanted the win. You can have the greatest day of your life statistically, but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t win.”
Littlejohn had the best of both worlds Saturday. The game of his college life and Catawba’s first win in a month.
Stephen Davis, a 330-pound junior nose guard, was named the team’s defensive player of the week.
“He’s a key to our 3-4 defense,” Walker said. “The nose has to command a double team for the 3-4 to work, and he’sbeen doing that. If they try to block him with one guy, he’ll make a play.”
“Every time,” Davis added with a grin.
Davis had two stops for loss on Saturday and has been in on 22 tackles this season.
The big guy that everyone calls “Yogi” — that’s a nickname he’s had since he was a very big baby — is from central Florida and was recruited by former Catawba coach Chip Hester.
“I was playing in our East-West All-Star Game and I had a good game with some hits on the quarterback, and our coach told me there was a Coach Hester that wanted to talk to me about Catawba,” Davis said. “I’d never heard of it. I was like, ‘Hey, how do you spell that?’”
The first plane flight of his life was the one he took to visit Catawba. He was sold, and the Indians added some impressive bulk to their defensive front.
“I hadn’t really expected to play football after high school,” Davis said. “But Catawba gave me a chance.”
Catawba is glad it did.
Catawba’s special-teams player of the week is Dalton Pierce.
Pierce, 5-9, 160, played at Mooresville High, breaking school receiving records in football and twice making All-State in wrestling. On the mat, he placed fourth in the state as a senior in the 145-pound class. Colleges recruited him more for wrestling than football, even though he was an all-conference receiver even after Mooresville moved up to the 4A ranks.
“I just really enjoy the grind of football and wanted to do that in college,” Pierce said. “I like the practice and the preparation each week.”
The clean-cut Pierce is a smaller version of one of his best friends — Jon Crucitti. Crucitti grew up in Mooresville and then played a huge role on state-championship teams at West Rowan before heading to West Point.
“When I was at Mooresville, we had some battles with West Rowan, against guys like Chris Smith and (K.P.) Parks,” Pierce said. “Those were fun games.”
Pierce was Catawba’s long snapper before the Indians decided to go with 205-pound freshman Steven Bartlett in that role.
Pierce is now the backup snapper and a backup receiver (he has four catches), but he makes his biggest impact on special teams.
“They put me on the kickoff team and the kickoff return team and then the punt return team,” the junior said. “So I’m getting 30 to 40 snaps a game, and every one of those special-teams snaps is a very important snap.”
In Saturday’s game, Pierce made the hit on the opening kickoff and later added another tackle on a kickoff.
“He’s a good athlete and he’s a great student,” Walker said. “He’s very tough on himself. If he makes a mistake, he’s beating himself up before the coaches can even yell at him.”
Pierce and his teammates are preparing now for Saturday afternoon’s home game against Mars Hill at 1:30 p.m.
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