College Football: Catawba 49, Livingstone 7
By Mike London
Catawba backup quarterback Patrick Dennis entered Saturday’s game at Livingstone with zero completions and two interceptions in five passing attempts.
Dennis exited Alumni Stadium sharing the school record for touchdown passes with Brad Roach. Dennis tossed five in a 49-7 breeze past Livingstone for the Mayor’s Cup.
“It was my first extended game action since high school,” the sophomore said. “There were a little nerves at first, and I missed a couple of open plays. But then I settled in. The offensive line gave me time, and everyone was running good routes to get open.”
Almost literally everyone. Dennis hooked up for TDs with five different receivers ó Eric Morman, Travis Landrum, Gerron Bryant, Grayson Downs and Brandon Bunn.
Howard Williamson, who won the starting quarterback job in preseason competition and turned in a terrific game last week, was dressed. He banged up his shoulder in the hard-fought win against Elizabeth City State, but he was still expected to play until shortly before gametime.
“Howard made progress every day this week,” Catawba coach Chip Hester said. “He gave it a go in pregame, but he couldn’t put anything on his throws, so we went with Patrick. We’ve got a lot of confidence in Patrick.”
Dennis had looked shaky in a brief appearance against St. Augustine’s and threw a quick pick against Elizabeth City State. But Saturday he looked like the talented player Hester and offensive coordinator Matt Barrett have always expressed faith in.
Dennis had taken extra reps in practice all week, but he went through his routines on Saturday morning and afternoon not knowing he’d be making his first college start.
“Not to make excuses, but it’s not easy coming in there cold as a backup,” Dennis said. “This was a little different situation today. I’m sure Livingstone didn’t have much film on me, and I’m sure they were expecting us to run a lot.”
Livingstone (0-3) had its hands full stopping Jamelle Cuthbertson on the ground early, and that took pressure off Dennis. Then with Blue Bears crowding the box, he made accurate throws to wide-open receivers after safeties bit on play-action.
Dennis took some hard, clean shots from the Blue Bears, but it was always a split-second after he’d put another throw on the money.
“Cuthbertson was running that ball like he was hungry and he’s probably one of the better backs we’ll face,” Livingstone coach Lamonte Massie said. “And we were anticipating Williamson at quarterback. Then Dennis came in, and he was just so efficient.”
Dennis bobbled a shotgun snap on Catawba’s first possession, but he turned it into a positive play and the jitters evaporated. He directed a 76-yard drive and capped it with a 44-yard TD strike to Morman.
Jasmon Carpenter’s 42-yard interception return early in the second quarter made it 13-0. It was 19-0 at halftime after Dennis hit Landrum for a 22-yard score.
“I thought Carpenter’s play was really big because it got them down and in a position where they had to throw,” Hester said. “(Livingstone QB) Bryan Aycoth is tough as nails, but our defensive line can be awfully tough to block.”
Catawba’s defense dominated throughout, holding Livingstone to three first downs and 17 rushing yards.
“We just did what we’re supposed to do, and we’re getting better each game,” defensive end Julian Hartsell said.
In the third quarter, Catawba made it 21-0 on a safety, then got three TD passes from Dennis in a span of six minutes. He hit Bryan for 40, Downs for 10 and Bunn for 51.
“I thought we were a little lethargic in the first half,” Dennis said. “But we came out fired up for the second.”
Dennis finished 12-for-21 passing for 242 yards and also made a nice 20-yard run. Daniel Griffith, who starred at North Rowan, replaced him and threw his first college completion.
Antonio Hall made it 49-0 when he finished a 67-yard drive with 5:14 remaining.
Livingstone avoided a shutout when Steven Williams hit Chris Peoples with a 4-yard scoring pass with 3:34 left to play.
Livingstone clearly has some talent, especially on the defensive side of the ball, but it’s mostly inexperienced talent in the form of freshmen.
“I know Livingstone is frustrated,” Hester said. “But they’re on the right track. They’re just so dadgum young right now, and it takes time.”
NOTES: Catawba (2-1) is off next week. … Williamson expects to be fine for the Sept. 27 game at Mars Hill, but Dennis proved Saturday he also can get the job done.