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Catawba auditions QB hopefuls

By Mike London
Salisbury Post
Wednesday’s Blue-White spring game at Catawba didn’t answer the quarterback question, but Howard Williamson and Patrick Dennis, the leading candidates to follow record-setting Brad Roach, at least proved they can take a punch.
If you’re keeping score, the Blue team, which was directed by rising sophomore Dennis, won 15-9 in two overtimes. The Blues won despite compiling zero first downs in the first three quarters.
“Did you see all those sacks we had out there?” beaming Blue defensive lineman Melquan Fair said. “Our offense took some hard hits today, but they’ll get it right.”
Catawba’s strongest position is the defensive line, where talented young athletes have grown into talented, experienced athletes. Marqus Davis, Wilbur Pender, Julian Hartsell, Lamar Keaton and Brandon Sutton kept heat on the quarterbacks all afternoon.
Catawba’s top returning running backs George Bell and Jamelle Cuthbertson didn’t suit up and some offensive lineman had to toil out of position. Those factors added to the pressure on the passers.
“We were missing a lot of offensive weapons,” O-line coach Ben Hepler said. “But we did OK, and at the end, guys were making plays.”
The most impressive thing was that Williamson and Dennis kept getting up after they were crunched, even when it didn’t look like the smartest thing to do.
“I took some shots, but I stayed in there,” said Williamson, a rising junior from Greensboro Dudley, who redshirted a year, then sat behind Roach two more. “A quarterback has to be tough, and Patrick I had to be tough today. There was no one else.”
Heading into the spring, the quarterback derby figured to be a three-horse race that also included former North Rowan standout Daniel Griffith.
Griffith took every snap from the shotgun at North and is learning Catawba’s system, but he was progressing well until he was sidelined by a back injury.
“I’ve worked my butt off here, so it killed me today to have to watch,” Griffith said. “But I expect to come back healthy and fight for a job.”
The Blue-White game was originally scheduled for Saturday, but it was postponed. Weather issues were a consideration, but the death of Williamson’s father was the biggest factor.
Williamson missed a week of football and didn’t rejoin his teammates until Tuesday. He played yesterday with the moral support of his mother, two siblings and two of his coaches from Dudley.
“My dad was always an athlete,” Williamson said. “He loved sports and always came to every game. I think today probably was the first time I’ve played football that he wasn’t there to see me. Physically, I mean. Spiritually, he was here.”
Williamson explained his father died of cancer before reaching his 49th birthday. He was ill for a year and half.
“People with that kind of cancer don’t usually live that long,” Williamson said. “He was tough.
“Starter or backup, I’m dedicating this season to him, and I wanted to show today that I could still come out here and compete hard. I know my timing was off some, but I’ve tried to keep pushing.”
Catawba’s coaching staff has been supportive of Williamson and his family all week, and they’ve been impressed with his maturity.
“Howard’s been in a very tough situation,” Hester said. “But we talk a lot about building through faith, and he’s gained a lot of respect from everyone for the way he’s handled himself.”
Because of the sacks, the only “quarterback” with positive rushing numbers was receiver Brian Terwilliger, who ran some option plays for the Blue team and managed 5 yards on eight carries.
Dennis was 10-for-22 passing for 117 yards, while Williamson was 10-for-26 for 79 yards. Dennis was picked off by Cortez Best and Jaspen Gray. Williamson was intercepted by Aaron Cauble.
Williamson and Dennis are good friends, and it’s clear Catawba has a healthy competition, not a brewing controversy that will divide the team. Someone’s going to win out, and the other guy is going to support him.
“We’re always trying to help each other,” Williamson said. “If I see something, I’m telling him, and if Patrick sees something he tells me.”
Williamson showed mobility and a strong arm and threw the game’s only TD pass to Brandon Bunn. Dennis didn’t look as physically gifted, but he showed a lot of leadership qualities as his team fought back late in regulation and in the overtimes.
“I think Patrick and Howard are neck-and-neck,” Bunn said. “Patrick has really come through this spring and showed what a tough kid he is. The defenses were just playing like hell today, but our quarterbacks did OK.”
Offensive coordinator Matt Barrett will have input into the final decision on this fall’s starting QB. The only thing he’s sure of right now is he feels better about both candidates than he did a few weeks ago.
“It’s their turn now, and both guys took full advantage of their reps this spring and both came a long way as far as controlling a game and making good decisions,” he said. “Both progressed a long way from the start of spring ball. They both found out they’ve got a lot to work on, but they also found out there are some things they can do very well.”
Yesterday, their teammates found out they can take a lick ó and keep on pushing. If anyone had questions, all they had to see was Williamson blocking the 285-pound Hartsell.
Hartsell’s helmet went flying.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, our quarterbacks showed today they are really tough guys,” Hester said.
n
NOTES: Catawba’s starting offense includes only one rising senior, receiver Antwan Strong, who made three catches for 21 yards for the Blues. … The seniors pick the teams. They always seem to be even. … Cory Darnell and D.J. Gill kicked field goals for the only points in regulation. … Bunn made five catches for 58 yards and a TD and also threw a 25-yard pass to Travis Landrum to set up a field goal. … Cauble, a former East Rowan standout, was pressed into cornerback duty and picked off two passes, although one was wiped out by a roughing-the-passer penalty. … Hartsell and Keaton forced fumbles. … The White team was one play from winning in the first overtime, but Davis was called for a facemask penalty on a fourth-down sack of Dennis. Davis still recorded two sacks … Willis Boykins scored the winning touchdown for the Blues from the 1-yard line in the second OT. Then Mike Benton broke up a Williamson pass to Bunn on the goal line to preserve the victory. “I’m thinking it’s a touchdown,” Bunn said. “Then Mike’s big hand swats it away.”n
Contact Mike London at 704-797-4259 or mlondon@salisburypost.com.

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