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College Football: Defense dominates Catawba spring football game

By Mike London
mlondon@salisburypost.com
A guy wearing a red jersey decided Saturday afternoon’s Blue-White Spring Game at Catawba
Thomas Trexler’s 22-yard field goal as time expired lifted the Whites to a 3-0 victory. Trexler had earlier missed a field-goal try for the Blues.
Former North Rowan standout Daniel Griffith quarterbacked the decisive drive against the clock. Trexler then drilled his uncontested kick ó with Philip Russ snapping and Brandon Bunn holding ó after three consecutive timeouts were called by Blue coach Bob Lancaster in an attempt to “ice” Trexler. Trexler didn’t over-analyze. He just booted it high and straight.
“I just laughed at the timeouts,” Trexler said. “It was still a chip shot. I had the wind with me for the first time, there was no rush, and I knew I’d make it. It was funny. Some guys out there were yelling and messin’ with me. Others were offering to buy me this or that if I made it.”The scenario reminded head coach Chip Hester of a game last fall. Mars Hill’s Lions called back-to-back timeouts at the end of the first half in an effort to freeze Trexler. He calmly nailed a 42-yarder.
“Being for all the marbles today, that was probably a pretty pressure-packed kick,” Hester said. “Teams have tried to ice Thomas before, but all those timeouts probably just helped him settle down.”
The game was plenty competitive. Lots of loud chatter interrupted by even louder hits.
“Guys were going hard at each other, as brothers will often do,” Hester said.
The defenses dominated.
Catawba’s defensive line is touted as the team’s strongest, deepest unit. Saturday’s action didn’t contradict that thinking. Special talents Melquan Fair, Brandon Sutton and Marqus Davis could be All-SAC ó and all-everything else. They made life miserable for quarterbacks Griffith and Patrick Dennis with sacks and pressures. Catawba’s other experienced QB, Howard Willamson, missed the game with a shoulder issue.
Coaches divided up the seniors, and the seniors drafted the remainder of the teams.
Fair, an all-region defensive tackle, and All-America offensive tackle Terence Crosby were both assigned to the Blues. With Sutton and massive O-line starters Zane Gibson and Kevin Hamaker joining the Blues through the draft, that squad appeared to have an edge on paper.
Appeared to, at least. Griffith had a different opinion.
“We thought we were the top dogs all along,” he said. “I looked at the Blue team and figured the Detroit Lions must have done the drafting. They thought they were better. I told them, ‘Just wait until the game.’ ”
The Blue team did move the ball more consistently. Josh Wright, an important transfer from Western Carolina, was the game’s top rusher with eight carries for 49 yards. Dennis threw for 109 yards for the Blues, including a 44-yard hookup with Travis Landrum.
The White defense bent a bit but never broke. Standout middle linebacker Lakeem Perry stopped a drive with an interception, and DBs Cortez Best and Bryant Vennable also picked off Dennis.
Davis forcefully sacked Dennis three times, but Dennis, always a tough guy, kept getting up and hung in there.
When Griffith’s 60-yard scoring strike to Gerron Bryant, who gleefully flipped into the end zone, was wiped out by a flag for an illegal formation, it appeared regulation might end in scoreless tie, but the White defense got the ball back and Griffith got his team moving on the winning drive.
“A lot of people don’t know Daniel because he really hasn’t had an opportunity here yet,” Bunn said. “Last spring, his back was hurting, he missed this game, it set him back. But he was good on that last drive. He made some really tough runs. He put some throws in tough spots.”
Bunn drew a key pass-interference penalty, and Griffith’s 11-yard pass to running back Bobby Morrison set up Trexler’s winning field goal.
“That last drive was exciting,” Griffith said. “That drive kind of sums up my time here. Lots of frustration and struggle, but in the end I’ll came through.”
After Trexler’s field goal, Griffith chased down a disgusted Fair as he slowly trudged from the field. Griffith got in the final words in a trash-talk exchange before patting Fair, who had a sack and a fumble recovery for the Blues, on the rump and slapping him on the shoulder.
“Yeah, I had to get in Melquan’s face a little,” Griffith said with a smile. “Because all day long he was up in mine. I wanted to tell him, ‘Hey, now I’m in your face.’ ”
That’s the Blue-White Spring Game. Intense and heated, but in the end, it brings everyone a little closer together. Griffith, who completed eight passes for 67 yards, and Fair, who is just an awesome player, will be staunch teammates from here on out.
“It’s always funny how this thing works out,” Hester said. “Even when it look like one team is stacked, it ends up being so competitive. These guys have too much pride to let anyone just run away with it.”
There’s major buzz about the recent addition of UNC QB Cam Sexton but there’s also plenty of confidence among players that the current quarterbacks are capable of leading the Indians to victories.
“We’ve got great players coming in at a lot of positions, and that’s exciting,” Bunn said. “But even without them, this is a very good team.”
And while the Spring Game is basically a glorified practice session ó with a scoreboard throw in ó it drew an impressive crowd of curious fans.
Hester declared spring drills a success. There were few physical setbacks, and there was impressive growth from young talents such as the rocket-armed Griffith and several defensive backs.
“A lot of people have lofty expectations for us this fall,” Hester said. “What excites me is that our guys have been doing the right things in the community and in the classroom while they’re putting in the work on the football field. You have to earn the right to have lofty expectations, and they have done that. We got better from the first day every day for the next 14 practices.”

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