College Football: Catawba 41, Elizabeth City State 29
By Mike London
Sophomore receiver Gerron Bryant exited Shuford Stadium clutching a gameball tightly to his chest, and he may never let go.
Catawba finally took control of Saturday’s wild 41-29 victory against visiting Elizabeth City State when Bryant rose impossibly high in the end zone to pull down a fourth-quarter touchdown pass thrown by Howard Williamson.
A 15-yard flag for excessive celebration flew a half-second after Bryant’s acrobatic leap, but his teammates and coaches understood why he gave the football an automatic flip skyward.
Bryant’s mother, Brenda, died in Florida in July, and it was his way of telling her those six points were for her.
“The defensive back had taken away the inside, but I saw the ball and I came back to get it,” Bryant said. “I called on my mom to help me, and I jumped. I jumped for all I had. Then I had the ball. I know we’re supposed to be first class, and I wanted to hold onto it, but that ball was going up to her before I knew it.”
Bryant’s teammates weren’t complaining.
“Gerron’s got a big-play mentality,” Williamson said. “The guy made a great, great catch. He and the offensive line made my job easy.”
Jamelle Cuthbertson rushed for 150 yards and three TDs, and Williamson threw for 218 yards and two scores, as Catawba bounced back from a stunning home loss to St. Augustine’s.
Still, Catawba rode a precarious seesaw until Bryant’s catch made it 34-23.
Catawba (1-1) trailed 13-0 after less than four minutes, rattled off 21 unanswered points to get out of the woods, then fell behind 23-21 at the half when Reggie Smith made an 86-yard kickoff return for a TD and Daniel Mendez booted a field goal for the Vikings (1-1).
Catawba’s lines controlled the second half, but there was still doubt until Marqus Davis sacked Elizabeth City State quarterback Curtis Rich, stripped the ball and headed for the end zone with 4:40 left to play. Davis should have been whistled down, but the Indians caught an unexpected break.
“I sacked him and went for the ball, and then I was on my back and got up,” Davis said. “You could see me looking around for a whistle, but there wasn’t one, so I made a play.”
Davis had two sacks and Melquan Fair had one. Linebacker Charles McAfee had five hits for loss among his 10 tackles and led a unit that hit harder and tackled more surely than last week. While receiver Dexter Manley enjoyed a monster night (eight catches, 149 yards) ECSU was limited to 56 rushing yards.
“We had more want-to and the defensive line was really getting after it,” McAfee said. “We weren’t going to take another team for granted.”
Catawba’s offensive line also improved noticeably. While Williamson was sacked twice, the line ó usually Terence Crosby, Kemp McSween, Zane Gibson, Kevin Hamaker and Hunter Carnes ó had plenty of success opening holes for Cuthbertson and Brian Terwilliger.
“It was real big improvement,” Cuthbertson said. “Those guys have the talent, and last week woke us all up.”
Catawba escaped its early 13-0 hole on a 1-yard scoring run by Cuthbertson that capped a solid, 78-yard drive, and Williamson’s 14-yard TD pass to Brandon Bunn following a special-teams mishap.
Cuthbertson then broke a sweet 49-yard TD behind blocks by McSween and fullback Adawi Revels for a 21-13 lead.”I’ve told the O-line if they give me a crease, I’ll make them happy ó I’ll make all of Shuford happy,” Cuthbertson said with a smile. “On that play, everything just parted. Then I used my speed.”
Hester admitted it was a little wild and crazy, but it was a step in the right direction.
“Down 13-0 against a good team is not what you want,” he said. “But we showed a lot of heart and character and our guys responded well to adversity. We made a whole lot of plays in all aspects.”
Bryant’s play was one that will be remembered a while.