College Football: Catawba 25, St. Aug’s 7
By Mike London
RALEIGH ó Catawba won’t celebrate its official Homecoming until Oct. 3, but many Indians returned to their roots in Saturday’s season opener.
Former UNC quarterback Cam Sexton’s touted trip to the Triangle triggered a major media circus, and he showed what all the fuss is about with 336 passing yards and two TDs. He sparked Catawba’s solid 25-7 victory against St. Augustine’s at Broughton High School.
Catawba head coach Chip Hester, who grew up in Raleigh, ventured home with far less fanfare than his new QB. So did defensive line coach Khanis Hubbard, D-line monster Melquan Fair, starting center Zane Gibson and O-line reserve Daylon McAlexander, who played quite a lot. Offensive coordinator Matt Barrett is an N.C. State graduate.
“It was the first time I’ve coached in my hometown as a head coach,” Hester said. “My family was here, people I went to church with were here, my high school coach and some teammates were here. It was just a great opportunity for Catawba to have a presence in an important recruiting area.”
Catawba’s 2008 season opened with a stunning setback against St. Augustine’s, but there was no repeat.
Fair blasted through to destroy the Falcons’ first play from scrimmage, and Catawba’s deep defense stayed dominant in sweltering temperatures with 11 tackles for loss and two picks by freshman Junal Rolle. St. Aug’s managed just 60 yards of offense in the first half and didn’t score until the fourth quarter. By then, Catawba led 18-0.
“No one plays a perfect first game, but we wanted the defense to look strong,” outspoken tackle Brandon Sutton said. “The focus was on being the aggressors and letting them know we have the best defense in Division II.”
Hester said “no Knute Rockne speeches” were required to get the team up. Not after last year’s disappointment He didn’t raise his voice in his pregame talk.
“We already knew this was a payback game,” said Antonio Hall, who paced Catawba rushers with 84 yards. “They were fired up, but so were we and we stayed with it.”
Hall shrugged off one devastating hit and kept coming.
Gibson spent a chunk of the preseason establishing a rapport with his new quarterback and was a little worried about Sexton before kickoff.
“Cam seemed really quiet,” Gibson said. “I asked him, ‘Are you all right?’ He said that’s just how he is before a game. I’m sure he feels like he can do better, but he was good for the first game. We’ve all got a lot of getting better to do and we’ll get after it.”
Sexton, who was sacked three times, was a little tight and a little off early, but his 51-yard completion to Gerron Bryant, who made a wonderful, lunging catch with five minutes left in the first quarter broke the ice and got him going. Bryant’s grab led to Thomas Trexler’s 29-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.
An eligibility issue had been weighing heavily on Bryant’s muscular shoulders, and wasn’t resolved ó favorably ó until right before the team met Friday at 8:30 p.m.
“I’ve been walking around campus with my head down all the time because I’ve been praying,” Bryant said. “Prayers do work. I had faith all along that they would.”
The talented Bryant caught six of Sexton’s 23 completions and had 106 receiving yards.
Catawba made it 9-0 at halftime when Sexton waited patiently for Brandon Bunn to break open as he sprinted across the end zone and delivered a textbook throw.
A fine punt by Colby McCanna, a hustling effort by Scottie Floyd that downed the ball on the 1 and a sack by defensive end Marqus Davis for a safety on the next play gave the Indians an 11-0 lead early in the third quarter.
In the middle of the third, Catawba put together a scoring drive that consumed nearly eight minutes and essentially put the game away.
Catawba was able to overcome multiple penalties as Sexton made key completions to Bunn and Brian Terwilliger. On third-and-10 at the SA 13, Sexton connected with Travis Landrum over the middle for 11 yards. It took Catawba three tries from the 2, but Hall hammered the ball over the goal line.
St. Aug’s scored on Joaquin Green’s 32-yard pass to Richard Abney with 7:37 left to play to make it 18-7, but Sexton had an answer ó a 39-yard TD strike to Landrum.
Catawba outgained St. Aug’s 424 yards to 162, and the Falcons moved the chains on only twice on their 10 third-down plays.
“We haven’t arrived yet, by any means, and the guys understand we’re not where we need to be,” Hester said. “Still, we did a lot of things we can feel good about. Today’s exposure was good for the team and good for Catawba.”
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