College Football: Catawba 21, Fayetteville State 20: Sexton taken to hospital
By David Shaw
FAYETTEVILLE ó First the good news:
Catawba rallied from a three-point halftime deficit to gain a molar-grinding 21-20 victory over host Fayetteville State on Saturday night.
Now the bad news:
Quarterback Cam Sexton, the prized North Carolina transfer who passed for 336 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s season-opener, suffered a right ankle injury on the third play from scrimmage. His status remains unclear.
“I don’t know all the details at this point,” coach Chip Hester said after the unbeaten Indians gained their second win. “We’ll just have to find out.”
Sexton was injured 1:19 into the game when he dropped back in the pocket and fired a 9-yard completion to wideout Travis Landrum near midfield. But FSU’s Joshua Wilkins rolled into Sexton’s planted back foot and was flagged for roughing-the-passer, a 15-yard penalty. Sexton was helped off the field and replaced by junior Patrick Dennis.
“You hate to see anyone get hurt, especially a great player like Cam Sexton,” Hester said. “But we have all the confidence in the world in Patrick. He led us last year. Any time you get a big injury it’s a shock. But you’ve got to adjust because it’s part of football.”
Sexton left the Catawba sideline when the first quarter ended, aided by a pair of crutches with an ice pack taped to his ankle. He reportedly was taken by his parents to Chapel Hill for x-rays.
“You’ve always got to be ready to play,” Dennis said after passing for 164 yards and two TDs. “But of course, my first thought was concern was for Cameron. I was in that same situation last year, so I learned the tough way. You get to a mindset where you just have to be ready at all times.”
Dennis looked like a seasoned vet when he steered Catawba to a go-ahead touchdown with 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter. His 27-yard scoring pass to weaving receiver Brandon Bunn came on a rollout to the right side and provided a 14-10 lead.
After Fayetteville State (0-2) inched within a point on Austin Turner’s 37-yard field goal, Dennis and Bunn hooked up again ó this time on a 25-yard touchdown that made it 21-13 Catawba with 1:46 to play in the third period. Oddly, it wasn’t the play called in the huddle but a read-and-react decision by Dennis.
“That second one,” Bunn reported, “was just me and the safety one-on-one. That’s all you can ask for.”
Would Sexton have played it any differently?
“Not at all,” Dennis testified. “We stuck to the same game plan that Coach Barrett (offensive coordinator) talked about all week with Cam as the starting quarterback. Nothing changed.”
A partially blocked punt in the fourth quarter helped FSU storm back within 21-20. It needed only two plays ó Ben Williams’ 17-yard completion to Bobby Wilder and Richard Medlin’s 25-yard TD run with 13:45 remaining ó to put a scare into the Indians.
Except that Dennis and running back Antonio Hall (17 carries, 116 yards) would have none of that.
“When we had to, we ran the ball and the threw the ball and the whole (offensive) line did a good job,” Hall said.
Down the stretch Catawba’s defense that played like giants. FSU’s final three possessions ended with a punt, a missed 60-yard field goal attempt and a game-ending sack by defensive end Marqus Davis.
“We knew we had to play a perfect second half,” he said after recording a game-high nine tackles and 2.5 of Catawba’s seven sacks. “We saw the offense was down a little bit, so at halftime the talk was all about coming out and applying pressure.”
No felt more relieved than Hester when the scoreboard clock finally ticked to a close.
“We’re fortunate to win,” he said. “That was a playoff-type of intensity level. Everybody played with poise. We overcame a lot of adversity ó in a lot of different ways. But I always felt like we’d find a way. We were confident, and that’s the mark of a team with character.”
NOTES: Hester said he’ll know more about Sexton’s availabilty today. … Catawba’s first touchdown came on a 25-yard interception return by Julian Hartsell in the opening quarter. … The Indians host Livingstone next Saturday at 7 p.m.