College Football: Catawba struggling to get started
By Mike London
Kicker Thomas Trexler had to make the tackle on the opening kickoff, an early sign that Catawba’s SAC opener against Mars Hill on Saturday was not going to follow the standard script.
Catawba (3-1) usually wins at home, usually beats Mars Hill, usually manhandles opponents in the trenches, usually deals with whatever the weatherman offers, but none of that stuff happened in Saturday’s 14-12 loss to the fired-up Lions at soggy Shuford Stadium.
“Every play is huge, and Mars Hill made a lot more plays than we did,” Catawba head coach Chip Hester said. “It’s a total team loss. We got beat everywhere. Now we’ve got to regroup.”
Catawba had vigorously stuck it to Mars Hill the last two seasons, the nationally televised game at Shuford in 2007 and Hester’s 50th win at the helm of the Indians in the mountains in 2008.
“Catawba flat wore us out last time we came down here,” Mars Hill coach Tim Clifton said, referring to a 45-21 pasting. “Catawba is always hard to beat. They’re especially hard to beat when they’re at home so this is a tremendous win for us.”
It’s a tremendous loss for the Indians, but it’s not the end of the world.
“Yeah, this is a hard blow, but the goals we set are still out there for us if we pick it up,” senior safety Jaspen Gray said.
It gets a lot tougher now, with a quick 0-1 hole, but all realistic preseason aspirations remain attainable. Maybe the Indians dreamed about going undefeated, but there’s so much parity in the SAC now, it’s unlikely anyone will run the table.
The puzzler continues to be the painfully slow starts. Catawba has scored 22 first-half points in four games.
Considering the offensive line is experienced, the receivers are fast, the backs are competent and the primary quarterback has started ACC games, that meager level of production is hard to explain.
Catawba was fortunate to win 21-20 at Fayetteville State after trailing 10-7 at the half. Livingstone isn’t scaring anybody, and Catawba led the Blue Bears 6-0 at the break.
“We’re coming out flat game after game and that includes the offensive line,” senior guard Kevin Hamaker said. “We’ve all got to start doing our part because the defense has carried us.”
Catawba’s defense is stellar when it comes to sacking QBs, but it didn’t have a great day against a Mars Hill team that had no interest in throwing a wet ball.
Mars Hill ran straight at the Indians, showed superior will on a bruising, brawny statement drive to open the game and didn’t relinquish the upper hand until the last 10 minutes. Heading to the fourth quarter, it appeared Catawba might be shut out for the first time in 15 years.
Catawba showed something down the stretch, putting two TDs on the board once a sense of urgency finally arrived.
“Too little, too late,” Hester said. “Very frustrating.”
Still, there’s enough time, enough talent and enough character on hand to get it together and to get it done.
But it has to start Saturday afternoon when Newberry (2-2) comes to town.