College Football: Catawba 37, Tusculum 35
By Mike London
Sprawling Melquan Fair’s chin was an inch above the ground, but he had his hands around Tusculum quarterback Corey Russell’s ankles, and he wasn’t interested in letting go.
Fair brought down Russell for one of Catawba’s five sacks, and he and his teammates never lost their grip on a wild SAC game that rolled back and forth across Shuford Stadium.
Russell threw for 402 yards and four touchdowns, but Catawba piled up a season-high 543 yards of offense to prevail 37-35.
It was a huge win for coach Chip Hester’s program. The Indians (4-3, 2-2) hadn’t lost three straight since 1994. They were staring No. 3 right in the face on a homecoming Saturday, but they didn’t blink.
“We missed a PAT, missed a field goal, blew great opportunities to score a bunch,” Hester said. “We’ve got so much room for improvement, but this was a very good win against a very good team. Tusculum’s athletes were as talented as anyone we’ve seen.”
Catawba quarterback Patrick Dennis, subbing for Howard Williamson (broken finger), threw for 357 yards and two third-quarter touchdowns.
Jamelle Cuthbertson rushed for 121 yards and two TDs, and Brian Terwilliger scored on a run and a reception. But give gameballs to the Catawba offensive and defensive lines.
“Catawba’s front four was the best we’ve faced,” Tusculum coach Frank DeBusk said. “We couldn’t run the ball all day.”
Russell said it was a huge factor that Catawba was able to pressure him with its front four alone and wasn’t forced to blitz linebackers. Fair, Brandon Sutton, Marqus Davis, Robert Brown and Arthur Cromartie got sacks and forced the Pioneers into holding penalties.
“We played better in the second half, and once we started using the twists we’d worked on, they couldn’t stop us,” Davis said. “Their QB is good and he hit a few big plays, but those are on the line, not the DBs. We needed to pressure him every play.”
While Tusculum couldn’t run, Catawba got steady ground gains from Cuthbertson and Antonio Hall.
“Establishing the run early set up our play-action passes and you have to give the O-line credit for that,” Dennis said. “They were physical every play. The plan was to hit someone in the mouth every snap, and they did.”
Cuthbertson broke a 63-yarder to put Catawba up early, but the Pioneers (5-3, 2-2) answered with two quick TDs, including Russell’s 73-yard bomb to Calvin Britt.
Dennis’ 60-yard completion to Brandon Bunn in the second quarter set up a 4-yard scoring run by Cuthbertson that cut the deficit to 14-13, and a big hit by linebacker Charles McAfee forced a fumble on Tusculum’s next drive. Julian Samolu recovered for the Indians and triggered another long march.
A 21-yard run by Terwilliger gave Catawba first-and-goal at the Tusculum 3, but the Indians settled for Thomas Trexler’s 21-yard field goal and a 16-14 lead.
That edge was short-lived. Russell hit Nate Binder for a 59-yard score 98 seconds before halftime. Catawba trailed 21-16 at the break despite 309 yards of offense and two Tusculum turnovers, including a leaping interception by Jasmon Carpenter.
A brilliant third quarter on offense swung control of the game to Catawba. The Indians scored on consecutive drives of 75, 78 and 60 yards.
Dennis threw scoring passes to Charles Morman and Terwilliger. Terwilliger also took a fourth-and-1 shotgun snap and broke a 27-yard TD that gave Catawba a 37-28 lead late in the third quarter.
Next, sacks by Sutton, Davis and Fair forced Tusculum to punt on two straight possessions.
“The pressure from our defensive line was the difference,” Hester said. “In the past, Russell’s had time to sit back there. Today, we forced him into a few mistakes.”
After the spree of sacks, it became a matter of running time off the clock. Dennis did that with a key, third-and-5 completion to Antwan Strong, who got 5 yards and 1 inch.
“Just great awareness by Antwan to get past the sticks,” Dennis said. “We were a lot better on third downs today (9-for-18), after we were 0-for-10 last week.”
Russell’s third TD pass to Binder pulled Tusculum within 37-35 with 2:11 remaining, but Aaron Cauble handled the ensuing onsides kick, and the losing skid was over.
Like Fair, Cauble held on for dear life. The Indians weren’t going to let this one slip away.
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