College Football: Mars Hill 14, Catawba 12
By Mike London
Fifteen minutes after a serious SAC upset, veteran Mars Hill coach Tim Clifton cheerfully sloshed his way across drenched Shuford Stadium, adjusted his dripping blue raincoat and winked at the sky.
Ground-oriented Mars Hill is tailor-made for soggy conditions, and Mother Nature was the Lions’ best pal on Saturday. Slippery Mars Hill tailback Jonas Randolph proved to be an All-America mudder. He mauled Catawba for 241 yards on 44 carries and scored twice in a 14-12 victory.
“Usually we throw it 20 times, but today we threw it five,” Clifton said. “The weather factored into our favor some, and we’d practiced in weather like this all week.”
The wet stuff made offense challenging for a Catawba team that likes to throw and made it difficult to rally after the Lions (3-, 1-0) completely dominated the first half.
“They just outplayed us, no two ways about it,” Catawba coach Chip Hester said. “If you don’t execute, you don’t tackle and you get whipped physically upfront, you’ll get your butt beat every time.”
Cam Sexton threw a pair of TD passes to Brandon Bunn in the fourth quarter as the 13th-ranked Indians (3-1, 0-1) fought back desperately, but Catawba had a mishandled snap on its first PAT try and couldn’t connect on a two-point pass after its final TD with 2:42 remaining.
“I’m still shocked,” Bunn said. “I still believe we’ll be OK. We’ll be there at the end.”
Safety Jaspen Gray, whose interception spurred Catawba’s late charge, said things went wrong from the outset.
“Everything was flat, and that’s offense, defense and special teams,” he said. “We have to pick it up, but you also have to give Mars Hill their props. No. 8 (Randolph) is athletic, a very hard runner.”
Mars Hill’s offensive line deserved the game ball. Catawba entered with the fourth-best rushing defense in Division II and had allowed the fewest yards of any D-II school. It was stunning that Mars Hill (3-1, 1-0) outrushed Catawba 284 yards to 131 and was able to play keepaway for long stretches.
Mars Hill’s impressive, 71-yard scoring drive that opened the game was the ultimate tone-setter. Twelve of those 14 plays were rushes by the tireless Randolph. Catawba faced instant adversity and never fully recovered.
“Catwba is very good defensively, but we thought we could run the ball,” Clifton said. “Our line played extremely well.”
Mars Hill threatened to expand its 14-0 halftime lead, but a blocked field goal by Terrence Jones and Gray’s pick finally changed momentum.
Then Sexton and Bunn put two TDs on the board, and Catawba got one last chance after Wilbur Pender smothered Jonas on third down and forced a punt with 1:36 left.
Catawba advanced as far as the Mars Hill 47, but Sexton lost 8 yards when his arm was hit. On fourth-and-21, he was sacked to end all hope.
“We’ve got a lot of coming together to do as a team,” Catawba guard Kevin Hamaker said. “We’re not close right now to being the team we can be and should be.”